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July 6, 2016

“Things have never been okay in this country.”
Posted by Patrick at 08:10 PM * 317 comments

For My Son, In The Event The Police Leave You Fatherless.

But in case the police to take me away from you forever, I want you to know some things. If I encounter police just know that I didn’t reach for their gun. I didn’t try to fight them. I didn’t resist arrest. I wasn’t a clear and present danger. Just know that if I’m approached by police, I’ll be thinking about you and your mother and your sister and how much I want to survive to be home and see you. As soon as the officer approaches me, I’ll wonder if I’ll ever see you again. I’ll want to fight or run but I know that’ll only increase the chances of you sobbing in front of cameras that don’t give a damn about how you’re feeling.

In the immediate days after my death, you will see pictures of me from college in baggy clothes, maybe with a drink in my hand. You will see old tweets where I made an off-color comment. You will see the media portray someone who seems like a complete stranger. Because he is. You know your father. Better than they do. You will know me and the man I am. Remember me as that man and not the one you see in the news reports that are used to make police look justified in their actions.

If the police take me from you, there will be people who will see you cry for me and tell you how to mourn. They will tell you to be angry. They will tell you to forgive. They will judge you for your emotional reactions to your father being murdered. I wish I had an answer for the right way to react. But I have none. I’ve found that as more Black bodies line the streets I’ve been unable to find answers to make you feel better about this world I’ve helped bring you into. The difference is, tonight I can hold you and just tell you everything will be okay—an exercise that sometimes feels like it’s more for my own edification than yours. If the police murder me like they did Alton Sterling, then I won’t be able to tell you things will be better anymore.

Comments on "Things have never been okay in this country.":
#1 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2016, 08:23 PM:

Hear hear. And it's too bad that this still needs to be said.

#2 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2016, 08:52 PM:

Agreed. It's a shame, and it makes me so angry...

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2016, 09:56 PM:

I worry: I have a nephew-by-marriage who's black, and he has two young kids. There are large parts of this country where he'd be in danger if he and my niece were out together.

#5 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2016, 10:58 PM:

For Christ's sake, white people, be more angry about this. "It's a shame" is what we say when a holiday gift package doesn't arrive in time.

Patrick, if your best response to this issue is starting an argument with another white person about whether their response is "correct" you shouldn't be addressing the issue at all.

As it happens, I'm livid with rage at white asshole cops who blow away black fathers, sons, daughters, wives... but it runs far more ranting and rabid than sane when I start to think about it, which doesn't help at all, so rather than post an incoherent rant on your blog, I expressed myself quietly. That doesn't mean the anger isn't there, it just means I'm not loud about it.

Don't be one of those SJWs who's more concerned about how your allies express themselves than dealing with the actual problem. You're better than that.

#6 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2016, 11:26 PM:

I answer a lot of questions on Quora, and I am getting volcanically sick up to HERE of ones that ring the changes on the theme, "I wish Black Lives Matter protestors would be more POLITE in their tactics. They keep alienating all their [white, middle-class, nice, liberal] allies! They're going to lose all support if they keep taking radical steps [like delaying Toronto Pride's parade] like this! What would Martin Luther King Jr. say?!?"

He'd say right on, is what he'd say. He'd say well past time. He'd say, "It's 2016 and you're STILL asking for this?"

If you look at contemporary sources, precisely the same wordings were thrown at him and his marches as are being said about Black Lives Matter today. And yet the nice, white, liberal voices who are speaking to silence today's activists are also claiming Dr. King as their smiling, generic, benevolent patron saint of "We did enough sixty years ago, you won, move on."

Fuck. That. Noise.

And if police want to have the right to march in Pride parades again, maybe the subset of their forces that AREN'T racist murderers should get together and say loudly and in unison that this behavior is no longer acceptable. That they will no longer condone it. That they will no longer close ranks around their brothers-in-blue against the entire outer world. That they will no longer assault or fire individual fed-up cops who attempt to testify against racist murderers or drug-dealing gang lords who happen to wear badges.

Standing around saying "Oh, it's such a shame," but also, "How dare they be so angry?!?" is disgusting.

Not one single time, that I can think of, has an oppressed population gotten rights without having at least one faction shouting, screaming, jumping up and down, shit-disturbing, and in some cases actively threatening or engaging in violence.

Not one.

Sure, what gets passed is a watered-down version of what the angry faction is demanding as a minimum (which is its own depressing, disgusting fact), but without people way out there on the "NO JUSTICE NO PEACE" edge acting completely outside all bounds of privileged politeness, nothing at all is ever going to change.

The Civil Rights Act passed, in part, because the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam helped make even Dr. King's fairly radical message of universal justice, the ending of income inequality (have you heard that one before?), and a complete cessation of extrajudicial police violence on black bodies (oh, that one's familiar, too -- did it get fixed in the 60s? I forget) sound more palatable to the white authorities of the day than active armed insurrection.

#7 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2016, 11:30 PM:

I've been listening to this track a lot, too. It's a wonderful vocal-music-and-loops band. And it's ANGRY. And it deserves to be.

"Burn", by Antique Naked Soul.

#8 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:29 AM:

Elliott Mason @ 6

Standing around saying "Oh, it's such a shame," but also, "How dare they be so angry?!?" is disgusting.

Perhaps someone misread what I wrote. I did not write "How dare they be so angry." I wrote "-and it makes me so angry."

"It makes me so angry."

I'm not opposed to confrontational tactics. I don't have a problem with upping the stakes. Nobody important will come to the table without something pretty radical happening, and the sooner that "pretty radical" thing happens the better. I've got no problem with it at all.

I do have a problem being judged by someone who obviously read the part where I wrote "It's a shame-" and stopped right there without also reading the part where I wrote "-and it makes me so angry."

And here's the hard part, since this is Patrick's blog: Patrick did a great job of signalling his virtue at my expense. He did a terrible job of recruiting me. If Patrick wants me to care about Black people instead of engaging in virtue signalling at my expense, maybe he should focus on the part where I wrote "-and it makes me so angry."

Then perhaps Patrick could respond by saying, "since we're both angry about it, what can we do about it." That's recruitment. That works.

If people are criticizing the tactics of groups like Black Lives Matter maybe that translates as "I'm afraid to join because I'm worried someone will signal their virtue by blasting me."

Americans are really uncomfortable with political action. They're passive. They're nervous about possible consequences. Getting involved means meeting new people and taking risks - we all know about surveillance and we all know that every movement gets infiltrated by someone - and if your movement is full of people who signal virtue by blasting other members of the movement... then the barrier to recruitment is just too high.

#9 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:34 AM:

Alex R. @8: If you want us to believe you are on the side of changing things, quit taking things we say are true about people standing in the way of justice and insisting they're about you.

None of us in this thread are mad at YOU specifically.

Nobody here is judging YOU. We are writing open letters on the subject at hand.

However, none of us (nobody, in fact) are under any obligation at all to put ourselves to any trouble to win you, specifically, over to "our" side of this conflict.

If you're already mad, you know my rage is not directed at you. Unless you are mad, in the wrong direction, or at things I am saying, in which case ... well, that's on you, not me.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:14 AM:

Alex: Patrick did a great job of signalling his virtue at my expense. He did a terrible job of recruiting me.

How, exactly, is that not doing to Patrick precisely what you accuse him of doing to you? You're prescribing what his approach should be in order to "recruit" you, to "win you over".

If looking at what's happening isn't enough to win you over, no matter what someone else says or doesn't say or says the wrong way about it, then being here complaining about how other people express themselves is the wrong place for you to be. Go do what you think will do a better job, wherever you think you have a chance.

#11 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:24 AM:

Elliott Mason @ 9

Nobody needs to recruit me. I'm already on your side.

I can't go out in public with my politics much right now, but these days I'm trying to change my life so I can work on more important issues than I'm currently involved with. I need to move one particularly stubborn log, then in a year or two things will be in place for that more important work.

I'm not upset with you at all, and I don't think you're upset with me. But Patrick was pretty obviously reacting to what I wrote above, and he quoted me directly, which is what made me upset. I just hate it when people bag on their allies (or potential allies.) It just seems so counterproductive and it's definitely one of my hot-button issues.

I had some more to say, but I'm going to leave the rest of it alone for now.

#12 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:56 AM:

Lee @ 10

If looking at what's happening isn't enough to win you over, no matter what someone else says or doesn't say or says the wrong way about it, then being here complaining about how other people express themselves is the wrong place for you to be.

I think that's my point. Patrick and I are already in agreement and he's going after me anyway. Publicly. I hate that shit. And for the record I got it back in 1991 when the LAPD beat Rodney King senseless.

The annoying thing is that this thread should be about Alton Sterling. It shouldn't be about me and it shouldn't be about Patrick, but every time I think I've adequately expressed myself on the subject of "Hey Patrick, knock that shit off," someone comes along and has something to say about the whole thing... I probably should have sent Patrick an email instead, because at this point I've said "knock that shit off" about six times and I don't think Patrick's read the first one yet. Kinda sad really.

If everyone could drop the subject and talk about Alton or racism, or how to make things better that would be nice.

#13 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:13 AM:

Or maybe about Philando Castile. Dammit.

You can search YouTube if you want to see the video.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:43 AM:

Alex... YOU could drop it. You're feeding it instead.

#15 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:44 AM:

Yes, Philando Castile. Right up north here (same metro, not quite same city).

Minneapolis police have a pretty awful rep, suburbs vary (that was a suburban force, to be clear).

I should be angry. At the moment I'm sad -- for me, anger demands a concrete target (might be a defense mechanism against it turning inward or something, dunno).

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 04:21 AM:

Since I turned in (early) and woke up (also early), it's happened again. Meanwhile, we're having an argument about white people's feelings.

#17 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 05:19 AM:

Folks. Please.

On the one hand, policing others' language for the appropriate degree and kind of outrage isn't a good use of anyone's emotional energy. On the other, centering the discourse on one's self and one's own hurt at being so policed is also a poor use of anyone's time or emotional energy.

We're angry. This is appropriate. We're figuring out, in a space that does not require people of color to do the emotional work, how to deal with this anger in the most productive way. This is also appropriate.

Learning involves screwups. I see several in this thread. Let's acknowledge them and move on without digging the hole deeper, please.

#18 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 05:21 AM:

Well, here's one: Alex is right that I was unfair to focus on his "it's a shame" comment.

#19 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 07:50 AM:

Comparison of European police (who basically don't kill) and American police

The differences in training are notable-- training for European police is centralized, much longer, and emphasizes conflict de-escalation.

The thing is, most of the calls for action I've seen have actually been calls for punishment, and I don't think punishment works very reliably.

I don't know whether centralization would be a good idea for American police, since that can be used to spread bad ideas as well as good ones.

I think pushing for the police to learn de-escalation is important, because just punishing them for excessive violence leaves them feeling as though the public doesn't care whether they get killed.

This doesn't mean I think this would be an easy solution-- the resistance will be tremendous-- but I do think it's the sort of thing which would work.

#20 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 08:06 AM:

I just watched the first half of the video of the murder of Philando Castile. His girlfriend sits there while he bleeds out, and is prevented from making any attempt at first aid by the officer, who tells her repeatedly to keep her hand in plain sight. She calmly assures the officer, over and over again, that she will keep her hands where he can see them. I stopped watching when it became clear that he was dead, and she starts to lament. It

I am never watching anything like that again. I am sure I should have something useful to say. I do not.

This is a lynching. It lacks the mob, the picture postcards, the grand spectacle. But it is an extra-judicial murder, sanctioned by society, based on race.

#21 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:23 AM:

Elliot #6:

Tactics matter, and some are more effective at moving public opinion than others. There are good reasons why people on your side will push back against some tactics--because they're counterproductive, or just wrong. To use an extreme example, imagine someone planning a campaign of bombing police stations to protest police killings of blacks. There are damned good reasons why people who want the police held accountable for killing people will still oppose that kind of tactic. (I know nobody is proposing that here--it's an extreme example.)

Addressing police misconduct in the US requires buy-in from a fairly broad part of the population, probably including middle class suburban whites. Whether it *should* require our support is irrelevant to the question of whether it *does*. So tactics that alienate that chunk of supporters are a pretty bad idea, if you actually want to do something about police misconduct.

#22 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:27 AM:

albatross @21: No white person has any right to tell Black Lives Matter what tactics WE think would be most effective.

They're grown people with the ability to look at inputs and outputs. And their methods actually have been the only ones TO work, ever, in seeking Black civil rights. Well, short of actually threatening or performing violence, but they're trying to handle it before it gets that far.

#23 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:30 AM:


I suspect that training drives a lot of the police killings of unarmed people--when you're scared and adrenalined-up, you fall back on your training. That's where I imagine we could address stuff like that kid with the BB gun who was shot by the cops.

On the other hand, a lot of police misconduct is probably maintained by a culture of impunity--beating some guy senseless for mouthing off or making you chase him, or bouncing him around in the back of the police van to teach him a lesson--that's not stuff anyone was trained to do in the police academy.

#24 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:31 AM:

I would note that telling Black people to sit down, be calm, and stop yelling has never, ever worked to get them their rights.

Suburban white people only ever care when it disrupts THEIR lives. When white SNCC activists were killed. When bus boycotts affected their commutes. On and on and on.

Politicians are only moved by large, noisy, impolite, shouting action, when it comes to the rights of the suppressed. Period.

Marriage equality only happened the way it did because of the groundwork of DECADES of loud, shouty, impolite, angry work that finally got the unfairness of the situation onto the radar screens of white suburban voters -- plus those white suburban voters gradually coming to realize that it's an issue that affects THEM, because many gay people being prevented from marriage WERE white suburban voters, or were the friends, the coworkers, the children, the grandparents of white suburban voters.

Drive it to the homes, the lawns, the picket fences, and make noise or set things on fire -- or have white people feel the pain themselves because white people are involved in the group being suppressed.

No other tactic besides those two has EVER worked, that I am aware of.

#25 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:33 AM:

albatross @23: Then it's funny that most of the people they shoot are Black, if it's a universal training problem that's due to adrenaline. Somehow white guys waving guns or actively shooting at the police can survive to be arrested, but Black men with their hands behind their back or flat on the ground should be shot.

The only way this is a training problem is when the training reinforces our societal script that Black Men Are Dangerous And Scary.

#26 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 11:54 AM:

I try to be outraged and angry and sorrowful about every single life: the judicial murders, the extremist attacks, the de facto lynchings. And I know I can't--I can't even know about them all, much less feel them all. I try not to be terrified: terrified for my friends, terrified of what true justice would look like. I try not to be ashamed: ashamed of my own relative safety, ashamed of how little power I have to affect anything real. And it's too much. It's all too much. I truly believe that this nation would be safer in the aggregate if we had no law enforcement at all. If we abolished all police departments and started from scratch with an entirely different model, somehow. Nothing will change until there are consequences. And there will be no consequences until something changes.

#27 ::: Greg Hullender ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:00 PM:

Elliott Mason @24: I was a gay activist for many years, and I agree with you entirely, but I want to add one thing: although the loud, angry protesters are needed to get the attention of press and politicians, it is the calm, rational, reasonable activists who get quoted in the press and who get invited to meetings. I think you have to have both or else you don't get results.

#28 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:07 PM:

albatross @21:

I'm not sure what your point is with the reductio ad absurdum about bombing police stations.

You are free to choose different tactics from BLM activists, if your primary concern is how best to sway your white neighbors. But you don't get to tell them what they should do. This is infantilizing; it's what I do when I tell my preschooler that he can't have a cookie unless he says please, not how I interact with other adults, especially on matters where their experience and knowledge exceeds mine.

Elliott Mason @24:

Politicians are only moved by large, noisy, impolite, shouting action, when it comes to the rights of the suppressed. Period.


In 1965, Frank Kameny led some of the first gay rights protests. They would have satisfied the most rigorous tone-argument critic: clean-cut men impeccably dressed in suits, women in skirts or dresses, walking in circles in front of the White House.

Almost nobody remembers them, and they accomplished nothing. What do we remember? Stonewall. Loud, angry riots by people who had realized that when the rules are designed to exclude you, following the rules will get you nowhere.

#29 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:10 PM:

Greg Hullender @27: Do you think we don't have any right now? We do. Black Lives Matter are the angry shouters to pull the Overton window and make the calmer voices seem "rational" to politicians.

They're not making huge headlines, but they are working hard.

#30 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:13 PM:

lorax @28: Indeed. And what do most people remember about Stonewall? What was in the movie? Nice clean-cut white gay boys shouting at the police to stop.

What actually happened was drag queens and trans women of color throwing high-heeled shoes, bottles, and rocks to defend themselves against active violence. But that's not "pretty", so it isn't remembered that way.

Modern Pride and even most of the marriage-equality fight keeps forgetting that the reasons we can HAVE Pride is because Black and Hispanic trans women said "No. Fuck no. No further. Not one more time," and FOUGHT, physically, to make space. They are our foremothers.

Just as the soup kitchens and parallel social services the Black Panthers provided are forgotten, and a few photographs of Scary Black Men toting huge guns is what is remembered.

#31 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:16 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 18

Thanks for the apology, Patrick, it's appreciated.

#32 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:21 PM:

Nancy, #19: What I'm seeing in the calls for action appear to be calls for accountability, not punishment. Calls to the effect that we need to rein in the ability of cops to kill citizens extrajudicially and walk away as though it had never happened, so long as those citizens aren't white. While punishment is indeed a part of this process, it's not by any stretch of the imagination the only, or even the most important, part.

albatross, #21: Just to be absolutely clear about this, nobody in #blacklivesmatter seems to be proposing the bombing of police stations either. So I'm not sure what the purpose of your example is supposed to be.

Greg, #27: That's absolutely true. Martin Luther King Jr. would have gotten nowhere without the background of SDS and the Black Panthers for him to play against. This is the point that people who call for the current movement to be "more polite, less angry" don't get. Well, and also that the call for politeness frequently has an unstated corollary of "so that we can go back to paying lip service to your goal while making no significant progress toward actually reaching it".

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:43 PM:


What if I think I'm on the same side as BLM protesters, and want their tactics to succeed? It seems like your position here is that I mustn't comment on those tactics, since I'm a middle-class white guy. Now, if that's really what you think, maybe we simply are starting from sufficiently different premises that we will never get to agreement, because that seems nonsensical to me.

#34 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:51 PM:

I've read about both Stonewall and the suit-wearing protests in front of the White House, which brings something important to mind, (and I hope I'm not being patronizing):

Movements have room for all kinds of people. The angry, shouty people who block parades are useful. The people who keep the computers running and don't say anything about race - except in how they volunteer their time - are useful. So are the people who write their Senator, and the people who say "don't tell anyone" and slip you $20.00 so you can get some donuts for the volunteers when everyone is working late.

'Nuf said, probably.

#35 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:54 PM:

So one of the things about the Philando Castile shooting is that various papers have been digging up his Facebook account and posting snippets from that, and...

The voice is *so* familiar. No, my posts don't sound like that, but I can point to people who show up in my FB feed frequently who sound EXACTLY LIKE THAT, and who are themselves black men. (though a bit older than Castile was, because I'm older and so the people I went to high school with are older too)

And now I'm wondering how long it will be until I see a post from their mother, sister, girlfriend, wife, ex, or whoever takes their account to let the world know that they're gone.

Or the terrible day when Facebook tells me "So-and-so was live" and it's a video of her boyfriend or son bleeding out after a traffic stop where yet another cop saw black skin and instantly thought deadly threat.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:54 PM:

albatross @33:

Of course you can express whatever opinion you like, but can you explain why you think that your views should trump those of experienced activists? What is the factual basis for your assertions?

Please don't say common sense, because your common sense is nonsense for people who are not middle-class white guys. You won't see half of what people of color experience, and what you do see you may not interpret appropriately.

Absent actual expertise, perhaps listen and consider before pronouncing. Or use evidence-based argumentation rather than reductio ad absurdum and general principles. The former is going to start fights you don't need; the latter may be less useful than you hope. And the result won't be either you or your audience actually learning anything useful in the real circumstances of the situation.

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 12:58 PM:


The Washington Post numbers for police shootings in 2015 disagrees with your idea that most of the people shot by police are black. The number there is 258/990=26%--that's larger than the proportion of blacks in the population (about 13%), but not "most" by any reasonable definition.

Among unarmed people shot by police (which is probably the category where we can hope to get fewer people shot by better training), blacks were 38/93=41%, again more than their proportion in the population, but not a majority. Among people with a toy weapon (another category where you might hope that better training could help reduce the number of shootings), it was 5/34=15% black.

I very much recommend playing with the nice tool they have here for drilling down into their cases. The Post did a huge public service by gathering this information together and making it available for everyone to see.

#38 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:04 PM:

Also, albatross: if you set yourself up to be the calm voice of reason against the emotional crowd, I will be very vexed.

There are other ways to conduct this conversation, ones that lead to people being smarter, wiser, and (at least) less damagingly sorrowful. This pattern of behavior does not.

Build bridges. Listen. Show evidence of learning.

#39 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:11 PM:

Since we're talking about Dr. King, and about white people criticizing the tactical choices of black activists, I'll point out that the Letter from a Birmingham Jail has much to say on that issue. There's much that's pertinent, so I encourage those who haven't read it, or haven't read it in a while, to do so, but I'll quote this bit:

"First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

#40 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:15 PM:

#32 ::: Lee

There's a lot of overlap between accountability and punishment. What I've seen is calls for abusive police to be fired and in the more extreme cases, to be treated as criminals. How is this not punishment?

#37 ::: albatross

As has been very clear, better training would also lead to fewer armed people getting murdered by the police.

#41 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:20 PM:

albatross @ 37

So black people are twice as likely to be shot as "other" people? And unarmed black people are being killed by cops at 3 times the rate of unarmed "other" people?

That's so appalling I can forgive Elliot his use of "most" which is something I'd normally call out in a heartbeat, because I think the numbers really do matter. Jesus, that's really appalling.

#42 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:32 PM:

I heard that there were protesters at the governor's mansion on the news this morning on my way to breakfast. I decided to go there, not really knowing what I was getting into. It's close, about 20 minutes by car. When I got there, there was a preacher, praying. Then Castile's uncle spoke. Then there was a press conference. Many people spoke, including the governor. I feel much less certain about everything than ever I did, and I was never that certain.

The crowd was perhaps 50% white. No black person would meet my eyes. The governor said the things you expect him to say. The crowd was not pleased. There were no threats of violence, but every now and then, I felt that it was inevitable. I don't know how this resolves without it. But I don't know how it resolves with violence, either. The black speakers were pretty comfortable referring to the incident as murder. No white speaker did so.

The girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, spoke. She was calm, and angry. She will certainly be pilloried in the press for being calm and coherent.

The local news media appear to want to make this all about the right to carry. Of course they do. Even gun control is a less fraught topic than the casual murder of black men.

I know less now than I did before I went. I'm not sorry to have gone, but I don't know that it makes any difference to anyone, including me.

#43 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:39 PM:

The Washington Post site seems to be very well done. Any way you slice the numbers, they are stupendously appalling. 965 fatal shootings by police in 2015 is appalling. Disproportionate representation is appalling. Give someone a hammer and everything looks like a nail. Give someone a gun and everything looks like a target.
A long hard look needs to be taken at exactly what American police should be for versus what they seem to be actually for, how they should be trained and what their equipment should be.

#44 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 01:58 PM:

(On preview I see Steve Halter said something similar, but more general and more succinct. Here's my rambling anyway)

I've been wondering lately about moving towards the British model of the unarmed beat cop, with specially-trained "armed police" available as backup when needed. Several times recently I've seen accounts of police officers shooting people because "he was going for my gun." Well, then, if you didn't spend your working hours with a loaded weapon hanging off your hip, there's one threat you wouldn't have to worry about! Maybe just take away the sidearms; they could keep the long guns locked in the police car (ideally with a lock that radios back to hq when it's unlocked, to call for backup, and to require justifying paperwork after the fact). There'd still be a problem with beatings and "rough rides", but maybe without the ability to think "well, if thing go bad I can shoot my way out", there would be more enthusiasm to learn de-escalation skills.

#45 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:02 PM:

abi #36:

Fair enough. I haven't actually offered any criticisms of BLM so far, just argued that it doesn't make sense to tell me I mustn't offer any because I'm the wrong color. I suppose this is me jumping at something I disagree with and missing the broader point.

abi #38:

I'm not 100% sure what you're asking for, here. I'm not remotely interested in a me-vs-the-world dogpile, and I'll bail out if it looks like it's happening. I am interested in trying to figure out what's going on w.r.t. police shootings, police misconduct, racial bias in the justice system, etc., and how we might make it better. I think that's one of the most important issues out there right now.

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:15 PM:

SO far, this year, the police have killed more than 560 people, according to the count by the Guardian.
That's before the latest ones.
That says that too effing many cops go for the gun first.

How many more?

#47 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:18 PM:

albatross @45:

Your first line answers your second. Stop making it about you and (for instance) whether you're allowed to express opinions. The impulse to establish that—even when you don't even have an opinion to express—is a clear marker of the problem.

You want to be in control. You want to be right, and be seen to be right. You want to bring people over to your point of view. Let go of those things.

Treat the conversation as a stone soup, a river to be swum in rather than a set of arguments to be addressed. Bring in facts and expert/experienced voices, not just to contradict or correct other people. Bring in ones that are interesting in their own right (and not just the contrarian ones). When commenting on them, build on others' interpretations as well as/rather than offering your own. Accept that you are less knowledgeable than people with a less culturally central perspective.

I know no way of saying this that won't come down to one thing: you, a white middle-class straight respectable guy, cannot be the center of this conversation. Your opinions are less likely to be informed than those of other people. The desire to establish your right to have an opinion shows that this is not a manner of discourse that you have a lot of practice in. But I know enough about you from the years we've interacted to know that you are capable of this.

The good news is, if you want to learn, this practice of stepping out of the authoritative center is a good way to do it.

#48 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:31 PM:

Alex R:

The numbers for unarmed people look the worst--I wouldn't be surprised if that reflected actual racial bias--policemen being overly primed to see a soda can or a cellphone as a gun and shoot, when it's a black man holding it.

Blacks are about twice as likely to get shot by the police as an average American, but they're also a lot more likely to be arrested, and to plead guilty or be convicted of a crime[1]. It looks plausible to me that the higher rate of blacks being shot by police might be entirely explained by the higher rate of blacks getting arrested.

Why does it matter? Because we can't figure out how to address the problem till we know what the problem is! If the police are equally likely to shoot blacks and whites in the same situation, then trying to do something about policemens' unconscious bias against blacks won't do *anything* to fix the problem of too many black men getting shot by the cops.

Probably the biggest advantage of the Washington Post and Guardian data is that they give us data on large numbers of events. It's way too easy to only remember the stuff that made the news, even though the cases that make the news are probably unusual in some way. And that can give you a really skewed idea of reality. There's a known bug in the human brain called the availability heuristic, where the easy-to-recall examples that come to mind can skew your picture of what's going on in a huge way.

For example, nearly all the prominent cases of an unarmed person being shot by the cops that make the news involve a black guy getting shot. But that's not the majority of police shootings, nor the majority of police shootings of unarmed people.

[1] There's a lot of evidence that the rate of committing crimes is quite a bit higher among blacks than whites, but there can also be some self-fulfilling bias going on in the justice system--if blacks are less likely to have private defense lawyers (I think they are), say, that could skew the crime statistics in a bunch of ways. Slate Star Codex did a nice discussion of some of the literature and data available on race and crime.

#49 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:37 PM:

Jeremy Leader@44:Yeah, heading towards a British model seems like it would be well worth examining. Googling "Disarm American Police" produces a number of interesting papers and studies.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:40 PM:

albatross @48:

There's a lot of evidence that the rate of committing crimes is quite a bit higher among blacks than whites

"Committing"? Do we really have evidence of the level of crimes that are committed?

I suspect there's a different verb needed there.

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:48 PM:

Other points that might be useful for the discussion, from the Washington Post site I linked to earlier:

250/990 = 25% of the people shot by police in 2015 were exhibiting some signs of mental illness, and a lot seem to have been in the middle of some major mental health crisis. This looks like a place where better training for the police, or better policies (like sending out a social worker as the first-line response, with the cops in a backup role in case things get out of hand) might really pay off.

730/990 = 74% of the police shootings happened during some kind of active attack. 782/990 = 79% involved the person who got shot having a deadly weapon. Those two numbers probably give us some sense of the fraction of these shootings that were genuinely avoidable. (Some of the deadly weapon or active attack shootings might have been avoided, and some of the others might not have been avoidable, but it's a good first cut.) We probably can't decrease the total number of police shootings by more than about a quarter by changing police training or policies. To go past that, we probably have to do something about gun availability or mental health services or broad social dysfunction leading people into lives of crime or something.

#52 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 02:54 PM:

#51 ::: albatross

A problem with your stats is that they're dependent on what the justice system says, and the justice system has been shown to lie enough that I don't recommend trusting it.

#53 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 03:19 PM:

There's maybe something everyone can do, to one degree or another: look into the relationship between by-laws enforced in your local town or city, and sources of revenue. If your municipality is invested in generating operating revenue through fines and attendant fees for such things as walking in the street, or failing to maintain property to a given standard, or other such bullshit, that's a problem. Poor and otherwise disadvantaged people are by such laws forced to give up or abandon their cars and even their homes, or pay increasing amounts to the city. The same for people who get everywhere by walking because they can't afford a car -- they get dinged for not walking the right way.

I mean, many of these by-laws look sensible and good to a middle-class viewer. Everyone should keep their front yards nice. People shouldn't run junkers on the streets. But then you look at who those laws are actually designed to affect: it's the very heart of systemic oppression.

It's not the only thing, by any means, that should be addressed. But it's a thing.

#54 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 03:41 PM:

Albatross, it may be true that 79% of those shot had a deadly weapon. Don't assume that's a gun. Don't assume the weapon is illegal. Don't assume that having a deadly weapon is the same as threatening to use it. I'm not trying to follow today's cases in detail, but one of the guys shot by Police had a concealed carry permit.

He'd be in that 79%. And there's video of the killing.

William Tare Fox. Over...

#55 ::: Rush-That-Speaks ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 03:54 PM:

What you can do: here is a link to Ijeoma Oluo on Twitter. I urge you to read her words, but in short: look up your town and city's police oversight procedures. Do they have body cams? Do they have a citizen oversight board? Figure out who to write to. Write them. Write them again. Keep on writing them.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 03:57 PM:

I just want to bring a bit of Dave Bell's commentary from the Somme thread into this conversation. Prescient, early on July 6, to have said this.

The quote at the head* could be applied to so many other things in the modern world. Just think of how it applies to black Americans today. to the ordinary workers at the bottom of the heap in any modern country, and to anybody with a bit of money saved and looking forward to retirement.

It suggests that Douglas Haig isn't all that unusual, he was part of a governing class that is still there. They, and not some arcane electoral process, give us our leaders.

They also arrange to take all our money, and keep all of their own.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. This thread is only part of them, but it's a big part today.
* "The nation must be taught to bear losses."

#57 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 04:45 PM:

Rush-That-Speaks # @55: The police in Baton Rouge had body cameras that didn't record because the cameras were "dangling". If the police are required to have cameras, what good are they if they don't use them?

#58 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 06:05 PM:

Baton Rouge is where I grew up (though I left nigh on 30 years ago), and part of my brain has been playing the lyric "troubled times had come/to my home town" all day, but the truth is the troubled times have been there all along.

#59 ::: privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 06:30 PM:

One thing that I rarely see brought up: we need to change the prosecution and judicial culture in this country as well.

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 06:31 PM:

Nancy, #40: I said explicitly that punishment was part of the process. Did you not see that? Where it's appropriate, it should definitely be used; that's part of what "accountability" MEANS. But it's not the only part, and claiming that it's part of the problem instead of part of the solution is not going to get us any closer to having a solution that works.

abi, #50: "Convictions" works well in this instance. There's plenty of evidence that white people are more likely to be acquitted or convicted of a lesser offense than black people when charged with the same crime under the same kind of circumstances. Then those statistics, derived from and tainted by racial bias, are used as justification for further racism. It's a nice little ouroboros, each side feeding the other to keep the whole racket ticking along.

pericat, #53: 15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now To End Police Brutality

None of these things are magic bullets -- but all of them are a push in the right direction. Right now there's too much push in the wrong direction. Let's fight back.

Theophylact, #57: This is where accountability and, yes, punishment come in. You're not wearing your assigned-and-required bodycam properly when the shit goes down? Administrative leave while the case is investigated; be fired if there's evidence that the "problem" was deliberate. No special circumstances. Do your job or lose it.

#61 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 08:18 PM:

Lee, I'm sorry, I didn't read carefully.

However, I'm not clear what you mean by accountability that isn't punishment.

#62 ::: Elliott Mason pushes on a server error ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2016, 10:01 PM:

Posting again to kick my post free, but I'm going to add:

When cops destroy evidence in a case where a police officer is being complained against, that needs to have severe penalties. It needs to become utterly unthinkable.

#63 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 01:10 AM:

At least 4 police officers killed (more wounded) in Dallas by snipers shooting at a Black Lives Matter rally. More info will be coming out over the night, so I'm not linking, because any place I link will be revising. Google it.

#64 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 03:18 AM:

I would like to clarify that there was a Black Lives Matter rally, and there were police (taking selfies with protesters; I liked that part) and then there were snipers.

Not that, say, some of the protesters shot the police. (Well, as far as is reasonably known.)

Also, white person here, who is sick of this. I mean, of Dallas, certainly, but really and mostly of things like Wednesday night, where someone bled out and (maybe) could have been helped, and was instead murdered and. I just. I have no idea what to do. I mean, yes, push for incremental change and work for accountability and awareness, but I'm just tired and heartsick.

Lydy, thank you for the report. And the presence. And the not-knowing.

Also, other pushing-for-change long-term activism people, though I like the overview better.

#65 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 08:01 AM:

@Kate #64: The thing I found most disturbing was the sense that we were all actors going through our parts in a classic tragedy, where it was all fated, and nothing could change. It felt like a set piece. It also felt very isolating, for me -- a middle class, middle-aged, white woman. (In a long skirt, I have no idea how that reads to people these days, but I suspect it plays into some stereotype or another.) I am pretty much the least likely person in my society to be hassled by the cops, much less brutalized or killed. So the fact that it felt like no one there had any sense of camaraderie with me makes sense, and I am not offended by it. But the gulf frightens me.

I was feeling very vaguely hopeful late last night. The fact that the news was making a deal out of the fact that the governor had specifically acknowledged that this would not have happened to a white man. The fact that the mainstream media is not (at least so far) pillorying Diamond Reynolds. But then the news from Dallas came in.

I have no answers, and I am less and less sure what the questions are. This is big. It's real. It is isolating and terrifying.

#66 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 09:58 AM:

Dave Bell:

I am not assuming that all cases where the person who was shot had a deadly weapon are legitimate, nor that all cases where the person shot was unarmed were illegitimate. But those broad categories give us some kind of idea about what fraction of police shootings could have been avoided.

At one extreme, you have something like that awful case where the cop shot a guy running away from a low-stakes traffic stop, and we can all agree that this should never have happened. At another extreme, you have a guy shooting at the cops and they shoot back and kill him--probably there was no way to avoid a police shooting in that case. What we want to know is, what fraction of police shootings could we get rid of with better training, policies, and incentives for the police? Since something like 3/4 of these shootings involved an active attack of some kind on the police or some bystanders, and also about 3/4 involved someone with a deadly weapon (I'm not sure about the overlap between the two), my first cut guess is that there are probably somethng like 3/4 of these shootings that don't reflect bad training or incentives for the police, but rather bad situations.

Now, that's a first cut. To know more, we'd need to dig into individual cases. But it's important to get a sense of the scale of what we might do, here. I'm guessing it's around a quarter of these shootings per year (so something like 250 cases) that could plausibly have been avoided with better training and policies and incentives, but I definitely could be wrong. Is there better data somewhere?

#67 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 10:18 AM:


The Slate Star Codex article I linked to came to the opposite conclusion, based on summarizing a bunch of studies. I am not sure how accurate his answer is. Figuring out the accuracy of our criminal justice system looks really hard, to me.

It's important to remember that convictions are a small fraction of the total number of people who get sent to jail--most cases are resolved by a plea bargain. It's not clear how much that has to do with reality--it's a negotiation, with the prosecutor explicitly threatening to send you to prison for a long time unless you plead guilty to something smaller. Anecdotally, I've seen and heard pretty good evidence that most people who get charged are guilty of something at least related to what they're charged with (the police usually have a pretty good idea of who's up to no good), but like I said, getting any kind of solid numbers is hard. I'm sure there are innocent people pleasing guilty because it's better to do 2 years than risk doing 15 years, but there's not an obvious way to find out what fraction of the time that's happening.

However, the numbers we have show quite large differences between black and white crime rates, and I don't think those differences get much smaller when you have mostly black judges and prosecutors and policemen. (Think of DC or Baltimore.) For example, here is the FBI's report on murders in 2015 by race of offender. About 37% were by blacks, about 31% by whites, and in about 30% of cases, the race of the murderer was unknown. Blacks are about 13% of the population, by comparison. (Also, in these statistics, they don't split out hispanics from blacks and whites, whereas they do in the Washington Post numbers, so it's a bit hard to compare the numbers--you can do it, but you have to do a little extra arithmetic.)

#68 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 10:26 AM:

Albatross @66, I understand your attempt to estimate the scale of the problem, but I think you're making a mistake. You're assuming that any errors in the statistics are unbiased; numbers are equally likely to be too low or too high. However, when evaluating the statistics, keep in mind that cell-phone videos are revealing what some people (those victimized) had known for a long time: sometimes, police lie. "He had a weapon" or "he was threatening me" are pretty hard to verify after the fact, in the absence of video documentation or eye-witness testimony (would you testify about a murder you saw, if the murderers were likely to still be policing your neighborhood?). It's clear that the people reporting the statistics are pretty much always going to err to the benefit of the police officers. So take those 75% numbers as upper bounds, not as any sort of unbiased estimate of the true situation.

For example, I remember a case in Los Angeles probably 20 years ago where a mentally ill man was shot by the police, because he was menacing them with a deadly weapon: a typewriter.

#69 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 11:58 AM:


Anecdotally, I've seen and heard pretty good evidence that most people who get charged are guilty of something at least related to what they're charged with (the police usually have a pretty good idea of who's up to no good)

Go get some anecdotes from a more racially diverse population. Seriously.

You've exhibited a love of statistics in this thread, so find a copy of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. It's all worth reading, though difficult, but what you want in particular are chapters 2 and 3.

#70 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 12:23 PM:

At least in drug offense cases, there are in fact a lot of people pleading guilty who are provably but never proven innocent. Strikingly, the innocent tend to accept a plea bargain faster than the guilty.

The article describes a systemic problem where police officers use unreliable roadside chemical tests to determine whether a suspicious substance is drugs, and send it to a crime lab for more accurate analysis... which almost never happens if the case doesn't go to court, which it won't if the suspect takes a plea bargain. The article focuses on a white woman who was wrongfully convicted by a field test and plea bargain, but notes that in Houston, 59 percent of those wrongfully convicted were black, while they make up only 24 percent of the population there.

(Side note: If a drug detection test has a 99% accuracy rate, and 0.5% of the population are drug users, a positive result indicates a whopping 1/3 chance that the substance was actually the drug in question.)

This suggests that the difference in the rate of conviction for drug possession may not correspond usefully to a difference in rate of drug possession, depending on the percentage of drug convictions that would be overturned, or never occur at all, if every sample were properly lab-tested instead of only the ones going to court. I don't remember seeing any numbers given in the article about the ratio of false convictions to true convictions, so I don't know if this is true, but it's worth considering. (Other factor: how often are people searched? How often does the officer whip out the drug kit? Is there a racial disparity there?)

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 01:13 PM:

albatross @ 67:

Anecdotally, I've seen and heard pretty good evidence that most people who get charged are guilty of something at least related to what they're charged with

1. See comment 36, common sense comment. How representative do you think your anecdotes are of the overall situation? If very, how; if not, why bring it up?
2. Why do you have access to that kind of information? What are your sources, and are they reliable, including attention to note 1 above?
3. Assuming arguendo that this statement is an accurate reflection of the state of the legal system, what rate of crimes that are committed are (a) reported, and (b) have someone charged with them?

(the police usually have a pretty good idea of who's up to no good)

That's simply not how we run a justice system. Or rather, to the extent that it is, we are doing it wrong. Very wrong. That kind of statement is the first step to framing people because we know who the troublemakers are.

I knew, in the tiny (white, respectable, wealthy) town I grew up with, who was making trouble and who would get in trouble. The Venn diagram of that population was not a circle. This is an anecdote, of course, but I'm not using it to prove any assertion except that it's complicated. Asserting that any group is universally correct is asserting an impossibility.

#72 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 01:26 PM:

And speaking ex cathedra, albatross, you're not doing very well here. You're still asserting your limited perspective as universal. You're trying to establish your factual rightness over people who think what you treat as facts are the fruit of a poisonous tree.

And in the process you're ignoring the deeply human reaction, the real conversation of the heart that's going on in this thread. A community is trying to find a way to look at the world that is both tolerable and constructive. Trying to find a way to get through the day with some kind of hope.

So let me try some clarifying questions. You don't have to answer them on-thread, but think about them as you consider what you say next.
1. What are you looking to achieve in this conversation?
2. Do you think that goal is compatible with the goals of the other people in the conversation? (Do you think it is compatible with my hopes, my desires, for this conversation as its moderator?)
3. Do you think that the approach you're taking is effective in reaching that goal?

#73 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 01:27 PM:

Crime in the US - Department of Justice

Lots of data in the Uniform Crime Reports.

#74 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 02:33 PM:


Re: the data I'm quoting. It's the best I know how to find. I understand it's flawed, but the alternative seems to be no data, or broad claims based on what stories make a big media splash. I think I'm almost alone in this thread in linking to and quoting data.

I'm basing my impressions about the accuracy of the justice system from discussions I've had with a close friend who is a criminal defense attorney (dealing with defendants from the very bottom of society, in general), from conversations I had with serious criminals long ago when I had a job that required interacting with several inmates in a maximum security prison, and from conversations I've had with family members and friends who have been involved in the criminal justice system in various ways. This is my impression, nothing more. Based on what I have seen, I do not believe that a very large fraction of people in prison are innocent, but again, I don't know that for sure. (This seems like a pretty big issue, though--if we really believe that say 30% of people in prison are innocent, it's hard to imagine a more important political issue than that one to pursue.)

What's my agenda? I think this issue is important, and I think it's too damned easy and common to have discussions that devolve into rhetoric that feels good, but doesn't lead to actually solving the problem, or even to understanding it very well. I see this all the time, on all kinds of issues, from terrorism to education to police misconduct. I usually watch one brand of rhetoric in liberal communities, a different one in conservative communities, and neither one very conversant with what look like the available facts. I watch very smart, involved people make comments that seem to me to be directly contradicted by the available facts.

I don't see how we could ever have a meaningful discussion about race and crime and justice in the US, without knowing something about the crime rate among blacks and whites. It would be like arguing about economic inequality in the US without knowing any income statistics.

#75 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 03:27 PM:

Now answer questions two and three. Reread the paragraph before the questions, aloud if you need to. Copy it out by hand if that's what it takes, but listen.

This may not be the conversation you think it is, the conversation you are trying to turn it into. The conversation in which you feel you are superior to everyone else, left and right, in having and being able to have.

From where I'm sitting, you're asserting a lot of dominance in the discussion. This is not going to be effective (hint for answering question 3!) in a conversation about whether/how one section of American society exerts power over another. Not when the commentariat is identifying with the underdog.

Let me ask you another question. How do you feel? About this situation, about the country, about the prospects for justice and peace in America? Not what do you think, but how do you feel?

Because that's the topic the rest of us are discussing right now.

#76 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 03:30 PM:

A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014

I need to read the whole thing, but here are a couple of things that jumped out at me:

3. Unarmed and Shot by Police: Across Race/Ethnicity

The median probability across counties of being {black, unarmed, and shot by police} is 3.49 (PCI95: 1.77, 6.04) times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police}. The median probability across counties of being {hispanic, unarmed, and shot by police} is 1.67 (PCI95: 0.99, 2.68) times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police}.


4. Shot by Police: Race/Ethnicity Across Armed Status

It is worth noting, that on average across counties in the United States, an individual is as likely to be {black, unarmed, and shot by police} as {white, armed, and shot by police}, with a median relative risk estimate of 1.04 (PCI95: 0.62, 1.61). The corresponding ratio for hispanics is 0.52 (PCI95: 0.32, 0.75).

#77 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 03:30 PM:

albatross, #67: (the police usually have a pretty good idea of who's up to no good)

It's obvious from this statement (1) that you've never been a member of a scapegoated group, and (2) that your understanding of the judicial process is on the movie-script level of "okay, round up the usual suspects". The fact that you could even say that in all apparent sincerity taints everything else you say in this discussion with the tag of "unreliable narrator".

This is what I meant in an earlier thread when I said you were saying things that make you sound both clueless and enabling. There's a point beyond which the presumption of good faith just isn't enough any more, and there are concepts (not people) which do not deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt because they have already been so thoroughly refuted by reality. This is one of the latter.

#78 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 03:57 PM:

OK, look. I'm out of cope, sleep, energy, and time.

Albatross, if you have a fragment of the social perception you assert in your paragraph about the criminal justice system, you'll figure out what I've been trying to tell you without further spoonfeeding. If you're the guy you certainly used to be on Making Light, you'll care enough about the community to stop trying to assert your dominance and superiority in this conversation. And if you're so into effective factual discussion, you'll examine why your approach thus far isn't carrying everyone with you and do better without me leading you through it by the nose.

And if you want to write us off as an overly-emotional and biased echo chamber because we're reacting badly to your ignorance of your own bias and habitual dominance, so be it. There's very little a person can do about that.

#79 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 04:00 PM:

#78 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη

What is the Greek, please? Google is nonplussed.

#80 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 04:07 PM:

ἀνεπίθετη, anepithete:
an- is an alpha-privative meaning "not"*
epithete is the feminine of "has an epithet"

This is me saying, basically, "The space for my usual heroic epithet (Gardener of Threads, Giving Atropos a Run For Her Money, whatever) intentionally left blank."

Because I'm tired, deeply tired, and have no creativity for what to call myself right now.

* Cool thing: the Greek word for truth, ἀλήθεια, aletheia, is an alpha-privative, meaning "thing that is not hidden".

#81 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 04:13 PM:

Carol@79:anepitheti -- basically "without tag" (I like that Idumea :-))

#82 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 04:54 PM:

I'm the one most likely to align with Albatross on these issues, but I have to say that I'm not finding the statistical evidence persuasive as to its reliability. There's just too much reliance on authorities within the system with motivation to lie and the power to cover up those lies.

#83 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 05:04 PM:

Lee @60 and Kate @64, those are good links; thank you.

I've become more and more aware over time that, contrary to what I learned in HS civics, police can and will detain people at will, effectively, and "broken windows" laws simply make it easier. What I find even more frustrating is that bad cops have no problem getting work; policing is local. Police hiring and training standards are a local affair. I honestly do not know how much reform can be effected at the national level; the US does not have a national police force in the way other countries do.

#84 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 05:17 PM:

The thing that appalls me the most about what I'm seeing isn't the racism; it's that this sort of behavior should be directed at anyone. Here's another case told by a black ex-cop: an officer, having lost contact with a suspect in a foot pursuit, goes to a house and manhandled a kid on crutches simply because he told her that he was home alone and didn't have anyone there. She then lied that he had assaulted her when another officer showed up, so that other officer slammed the kid around again and dragged him off in handcuffs. What the hell?!?

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 05:55 PM:

This, yes.
And that Congress will not allow funding for any studies about guns and violence. (This is one of the reasons for the sit-in last week. But not all of it.)

Idumea, may the rest of the week be much better.

#86 ::: privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 06:05 PM:

C. Wingate: I am trying to find the right middle ground between Racism is A Problem and Policing in the United States has a problem. Here's the best analogy I have come up with:

There are two carcinogens in the water. One mostly affects African Americans and causes pancreatic cancer. The other affects everybody and causes stomach cancer. It is clear that the carcinogens are a more acute health crisis in the African American population. It is clear that the affects on the general population are a larger health problem than the ones specific to African Americans. The rational response is for everyone to band together and fight both. However, the industry that produces the first chemical has a lot of defenders in the white community and the government has a lousy track record for dealing with the African American community. Meanwhile, similar well established lobbies argue the second carcinogen has health benefits that outweigh its risks, though most public health officials think this claim is false.

We need to solve both problems and we need the good faith efforts of several communities to effectively find a solution. And to be perfectly clear, I do think African Americans, in general, are better at seeing BOTH problems than white Americans are. It is my anecdotal impression that white Americans only see/prioritize the racist crisis OR they only see/prioritize the police/authority crisis OR they see no problem with the status quo.

#87 ::: Chris Battey ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 06:09 PM:

In the article that Tim @ 76 linked, there's one particular point in the abstract that I'd like to draw attention to (emphasis mine):

Finally, analysis of police shooting data as a function of county-level predictors suggests that racial bias in police shootings is most likely to emerge in police departments in larger metropolitan counties with low median incomes and a sizable portion of black residents, especially when there is high financial inequality in that county. There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.
So. Can we stop asserting that murder of black people by police has anything whatsoever to do with the frequency with which they commit crimes? The data does not support it.

#88 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 06:41 PM:

Privateiron@86: I'm not sure why you think there are two separate carcinogens.

Racism interacts intimately with police brutality.

What if your carcinogen is, say, three times as deadly to African Americans as to whites.

Let's say the effect on whites was fairly minor, but in African Americans it rises to deadliness, say on a par with lung cancer.

We can fight ONE THING and solve the effects on everyone. Yes, we have to pay special attention to what happens to African Americans because they are the canary in the coal mine: whatever affects the system, hits them first and hardest.

But I don't know why you think fighting things that pummel African Americans takes resources away from fighting systemic problems that ALSO harm people of all other backgrounds.

Solve one, solve all. A system that is fundamentally just for African Americans will be just for everyone, because there's no way to solve just ONE part of the system without it fixing the whole thing.

But if you only focus on things that harm white people, because "that has a greater effect on society," is innately choosing to leave pools of fatality that you're not interested in solving.

Oh, and while we're on carcinogens: the areas that are the most strongly polluted are ones where few white people live.

So this is not a hypothetical, at all.

#89 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 06:42 PM:

Shorter me: Policing in the United States has a racism problem. And if we can prosecute officers for brutality against Black folks, officers who are brutal to everyone else will also be dealt with.

When something in the US is viewed as "mostly a Black problem," it tends to lose resources sharply and be ignored for decades.

#90 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 06:55 PM:

I have great-uncles who were police constables in England. all long dead, but there were family stories. There were people they knew about, but the style of policing was very different. There was a British TV series called "Heartbeat", based on a series of books by a policeman that covered his early career.

It was a different era, with a different style. There were few motor vehicles and no personal radios. Policing was by the "beat", with fixed checkpoints and times where contact could be made. The famous Doctor Who Police Box was one solution to the problem of contacting the bobby on the beat. It had a telephone, and it would be a checkpoint. And that flashing light on top was part of how the headquarters tried to contact a policeman.

Today is a much more reactive system. An incident is called in to the police, and an officer in a car gets a radio message telling him to go to a particular place. In the past, a beat bobby gained a lot from knowing the area, knowing what was unusual. and knowing "the usual suspects". They didn't have motor cars either.

One of my great-uncles was the village bobby where Douglas Bader grew up. And for some very petty nuisance offences, Douglas Bader was one of the usual suspects.

Another was a detective near Bradford. He saw somebody he knew of, wondered what he was doing on his patch. The odd thing was that the guy was willing to come along to the station, "to assist the police with their inquiries". And he could show he had only just arrived in town, but had he done something elsewhere?

Some of it is what they now call intelligence-led policing.

I'm just old enough to see the tail end of that era, and to know where our village bobby was based. I can't recognise the house now, too many details have changed, but two of the most troublesome families in the village lived in a pair of council houses within about fifty yards.

I can see how "the usual suspects" can turn bad, especially when you have the sort of routine racism that the USA has. It wasn't all that wonderful here, but I think it did make some sense.

Maybe we can thank Robert Peel for that, and times keep changing. It's been around half a century since I saw a village bobby.

#91 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 07:30 PM:

pericat, #83: bad cops have no problem getting work

Yes, that's a huge part of the problem. The cop who manhandled Sandra Bland and dragged her into jail over a minor motor violation had recently been fired from the next town over for excessive-force issues, but he had no trouble getting hired on by Waller County. The cop up in (IIRC) Ohio who was fired for beating the shit out of an unarmed black college kid was immediately hired, again by the next town over, and the police chief there announced that they were "proud to have secured the services of such a fine officer". Until we can get the rotten apples OUT OF THE BARREL ALTOGETHER, they will continue to poison everything they touch. And I don't see any way of doing that short of something like a national police-brutality registry, because obviously the idea that hiring someone who's just been fired for beating up citizens is not something you want to do doesn't have any traction on the local level.

Elliott, #89: Expanding on your statement... The excessive-force problem is connected to but not limited to the racism problem. These things don't happen in a vacuum. Officers who suffer no consequences for early, minor instances of excessive force escalate -- it takes less and less to cause them to do more and more. And eventually it doesn't require that they be facing a black person for that reflex to kick in. White privilege is a thing, yes; but I've had an officer threaten to arrest me for having the temerity to ask why I'd been pulled over. These days I worry that I might not move fast enough (or deferentially enough) for one of these hair-trigger assholes and find myself on the ground being repeatedly tased like Sandra Bland, even though I'm white.

Getting a handle on police brutality will stop a lot of violence against black people, but it will also stop a significant level of violence against white people. Because it's the same cops who do both.

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 08:05 PM:

And studies have shown that it's usually the same guys doing it, over and over. Once they've done it twice, they're even more likely to do it again. It's a relatively small number that are the problems, but they aren't being weeded out. (The ones who stopped Philando Castile - they had been in trouble for brutality before. More than once. Red flag.)
That database is a really good idea - all the cops who get fired for cause should be in it.

#93 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 10:08 PM:

Just rushing down to the bottom of the comments to lift out a bit of Elliot Mason's comment at #88 , which I think would make an excellent tag-line, chant, what have you:

Solve one, solve all.

Crazy(and deffo responding more with her heart than her intellect just now)Soph

#94 ::: Dicentra rubra ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 10:51 PM:

A couple of relevent posts from 2014 and 2015 by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

The Myth of Police Reform


Blue Lives Matter

#95 ::: Dicentra rubra ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2016, 11:05 PM:

Alas, I worked so hard at getting the links right that I muffed "relevant"! Sorry.

I am beyond grateful for the posts that suggest actions to take, to help move beyond the present nightmare. And to abi for curating this conversation. Thanks to this community for its support and suggestions.

In that spirit, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates points out something really important in this quote from the first linked post in my previous comment:

"The idea of "police reform" obscures the task. Whatever one thinks of the past half-century of criminal-justice policy, it was not imposed on Americans by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are, at the very least, byproducts of democratic will. Likely they are much more. It is often said that it is difficult to indict and convict police officers who abuse their power. It is comforting to think of these acquittals and non-indictments as contrary to American values. But it is just as likely that they reflect American values. The three most trusted institutions in America are the military, small business, and the police.

"To challenge the police is to challenge the American people, and the problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that we are majoritarian pigs. When the police are brutalized by people, we are outraged because we are brutalized. By the same turn, when the police brutalize people, we are forgiving because ultimately we are really just forgiving ourselves. Power, decoupled from responsibility, is what we seek. The manifestation of this desire is broad. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani responded to the killing of Michael Brown by labeling it a "significant exception" and wondering why weren't talking about "black on black crime." Giuliani was not out on a limb. The charge of insufficient outrage over "black on black crime" has been endorsed, at varying points, by everyone from the NAACP to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson to Giuliani's archenemy Al Sharpton."

#96 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 12:44 AM:

Lydy: As to the cameraderie, or lack thereof -- I am certainly not you, nor am I any of the other people at the rally/vigil, but some of that may well just have been, it's hard to reach out, sometimes. And rage and despair and trauma are /tiring/. Which doesn't make it easier.

Dallas (peculiarly enough) has helped me a little, at times, because the Chief keeps saying some right things, and Dallas is, it seems, an example of some implementation of de-escalation. Except then I think about things like drone execution and I go back to being unable to think.

Albatross: My basic feeling is, even if I accept the statistics with no question, and don't consider them in any kind of cultural context, why does it matter if African-American populations commit more crimes, as this society currently defines crimes? Why does it matter in this context? Why does that then mean it is valid for police to abuse, mistreat, and kill people?

Mind you, I don't accept them. Anecdotally, I have seen enough instances of someone black being arrested for disturbing the peace for, basically, being a guy yelling just a little too loudly; I have seen endless examples of DWB, while white me spent three years being able to avoid arrest for basically being a traffic scofflaw, until I couldn't avoid it any longer. And that's all anecdata. It's not even getting near the systemic stuff Lee, estelendur, and others mention.

(You don't need to answer, really, I'm just expelling another cri de coeur and you're the proximate cause.)

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 01:16 AM:

Re the issue of "black-on-black crime"... I'm just noodling here, looking for a decent pushback when that argument is deployed as a derail. Would it be proper to say that, as a white person, I'm not the appropriate voice to address that issue (just as I'm not the appropriate voice to criticize the statements of PoC about their lived experience)? But white-on-black crime is appropriate for me to speak out about, because PoC can do it until the cows come home and nobody who isn't already convinced will pay attention?

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 02:50 AM:

Lee @97:

How about, "It would be easier to address crime rates in black communities if those communities could trust the police. This is about breaking down the barriers that prevent good police officers from doing what they do best: protecting and serving communities."

Or something along those lines. Without getting into how very! important! some commenters feel it is whether crimes are "black on black", talk about better police relations as a tool for making people safer. Don't get into the weeds of whether the problem they perceive is real or relevant or what they say they think it is. Segue back to the idea that a good solution for so many problems would be if the people being policed could trust the police to do good and not do harm.

#99 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 03:14 AM:

Corrupt policing and policing that has lost its legitimacy are really hard problems for any polity to address, let alone solve. I've seen it in a bunch of post-Communist places I've visited or lived in, and I've basically only seen it solved in one: traffic cops in Georgia. What it took to get there included a revolutionary situation, near-total public buy-in for dramatic change, firing the entire force, significant outside financial and technical assistance, and wholesale changes in the physical elements (cars, uniforms, stations, probably more behind the scenes). It also left behind a significant number of guys who were used to having weapons and power, and who suddenly found themselves holding only the former. That was a problem for a while, though a decade later it seems largely to have settled down.

At any rate, it's a tough model to replicate.

#100 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 03:45 AM:

I'm feeling horrible. I know that, as a white person, I benefit from the same system that killed these people. It's not OK, but I feel helpless to do anything about it.

I don't know of any police killings in Hoboken, where I live. I probably will find out about the process for police complaints, but frankly I'm not expecting to find anything as outrageous as the ones I've heard of recently, where the Complaint Review Board is made up entirely of cops, and so is the appeal board.

No police department should be allowed to police itself. Prosecution should never be in the hands of a local prosecutor, but always a special appointee. Police convicted of brutality should be barred from serving as police nationwide, and every police department should be required to check new hires' fingerprints against the national database.

None of that will happen. But it's the minimum I can see starting to even work on the problem.

I pretty much despair, actually. This world has turned to shit, and I'm beginning to seriously regret not going in to work early on September 11. But I won't bail out now: I believe I have a responsibility to do what I can to improve the world. Just not sure how to go about it.

I read the story of Philando Castile and weep. How much we lose to these goddam murderous cops! Philando Castile was what Tony Hillerman would have called a Valuable Man. He knew the names of 500 kids and all their allergies, and he kept them from eating things that would make them sick. And he was killed because some asshole cop decided that responding to "show me your papers" by getting out his papers was worthy of death. That cop is a filthy murderer and he'll probably walk.

I find it notable that the NRA said absolutely nothing about Philando's death. He was a law-abiding citizen legally entitled to go armed. Why didn't they even say "It's regrettable" or anything at all? Because they're actually the National Racist Association, that's why. The 2nd Amendment is a white privilege, and always has been. They certainly spoke right up when someone shot a bunch of cops. If they had any conscience, empathy, or basic humanity they would have spoken up in both cases.

Theophylact 57: I've said elseweb that police body cams should inject formic acid into the cop's gun hand when tampered with.

#101 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 04:14 AM:

Xopher: What I've been doing: signal-boosting voices of color where I can, watching and signal-boosting what seem like practical solutions. Forwarding unicorn chasers where I find them. Living my life (because not doing so helps nobody) and trying not to add to the problem if I can avoid it.

It is overwhelming at times; I just started spending time on Twitter a week or two back. I'm not used to this OMG IN YOUR FACE immediacy.

I take comfort (if you can call it that) in recognizing that none of these problems are new. (Well, maybe the daily mass gun violence. But violence, and racial violence? Old as the human race.)

What is new is how visible it is, if you care to look. And, as perverse as it sounds, I think this is a good thing. Sunlight. Disinfectant, and all that.

#102 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 05:20 AM:

To their not-very-much-credit, the NRA did make a statement about Castile. Sort of.

#103 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 06:15 AM:

A figure that's stuck with me recently I hadn't seen before is that police in the US kill almost 1,000 citizens a year.

1000 citizens.

A number equivalent to a third of those killed in the 9/11 attacks.

That's a number we expect in brutal dictatorships and police states, not a first-world democracy, yet they expect the US public to accept this as normal? This is not normal, not in any sense. Something is seriously wrong with policing in the US.

#104 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 09:57 AM:

A long comment I wrote and had a server error on included three facts about this problem in Chicago that other people may not be aware of:

* There's a distressing pattern where Black civilians in "dangerous" neighborhoods who call the police to intervene in a getting-violent situation are shot. The person who called 911. Shot and killed. This is why people in those neighborhoods have almost entirely called calling the cops or answering their questions. They try to stay at least a block away from all police officers at all times, and I don't blame them.

* There is agitation (from within the force and the police union) to delete all the historical records of police brutality claims and their resolutions, destroying everything before 2 years ago unexamined. Because looking at those records for a pattern of complaints might "have a negative effect on advancement opportunities" for those officers. I wish I were kidding.

* In my 40-year lifetime I can count on the fingers of one hand the police who have ever been indicted for an officer-caused homicide.

#105 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 10:10 AM:

I notice a huge pattern in public police statements and statements on the web by former police officers and their strong supporters assuming that most or all "brutality" complaints are simply the complainant being a mean meaniepants who wants to attack an officer.

This is a perception not held by many of the people making complaints, but it may well be the presumption on the part of the people INVESTIGATING them.

It is the belief of these people who think brutality claims are nonsense and usually unfounded, that looking for a pattern of complaints over years will only show you what officers seem in need of attack by outsiders -- like gang members reporting repeatedly on an officer who is particularly effective at his job.

This is a complete funhouse mirror difference from what I think those datasets are good for, but acknowledging what it looks like from their point of view is necessary to get anything achieved.

#106 ::: Dicentra rubra ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 11:30 AM:

Lee @ 97:

To add to abi's able response @98, another way to differentiate between police killing black people and "black-on-black crime" is that the former is being done with citizens' (our) money, by our public servants, in the name of our greater good, and with almost no accountability for the killers. As Coates says, we are invested in defending the status quo because otherwise we might have to examine our own priorities and assumptions about race. The corollary to that of course is that unless we object and act to change it, we all own it.

Also, though I don't frequent Twitter so I could be wrong, AIUI, not that many people go on twitter to make excuses when "black-on-black crime" is committed.

#107 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 04:45 PM:

Something white people don't even need to consider:

Geeking while black

#108 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 09:15 PM:

Jacque 101: Yeah, it takes some getting used to. And thanks.

kate 102: Yeah. Sort of. Didn't even NAME him. Still think they're a bunch of racist bastards.

#109 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2016, 11:19 PM:

The Government of Bahamas has just issued a travel advisory for its citizens travelling to the U.S.. "In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with police." "Do not get involved in political or other demonstrations under any circumstances and avoid crowds."


#110 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 12:14 AM:

Xopher: No question. I just like to be irked at their racism with the up-to-date version of it.

#111 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 10:24 AM:

"All Things Considered" dedicated Saturday's program to views about the week's shootings. For . . . balance? perspective? . . . they asked some expert consultant guy about the War on Police.

Jeebus Cripes.

Apparently Black Lives Matters is an international communist conspiracy fighting against the rule of law and order.

Among the mostly thoughtful interviewees this guy was like your neighbor's cranky uncle who wandered into the wrong backyard picnic. Only he's a cranky uncle who does consultation. A professional hate-stirrer.

#112 ::: micah ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 11:24 AM:

Elliott Mason @105: I notice a huge pattern in public police statements and statements on the web by former police officers and their strong supporters assuming that most or all "brutality" complaints are simply the complainant being a mean meaniepants who wants to attack an officer.

This is a perception not held by many of the people making complaints, but it may well be the presumption on the part of the people INVESTIGATING them.

This seems to me as something that could be similar to a 99%-accurate drug test giving false-positives 70% of the time because it's usually being given to someone who's not on drugs.

If you are an actual criminal and want to improve your odds at trial, muddying the waters with some accusations of police brutality might make perfect sense. So, actual criminals are reporting brutality even if it doesn't happen, but the innocent are only reporting brutality when it does happen, ending up with a situation where the majority of brutality cases are false charges, even though there is a lot of brutality.

Worsening matters, if there are a lot of false charges out there often, a good cop will likely be charged with brutality falsely, giving them an experience where 100% of the charges they personally see are false.

Just saying that, sometimes the statistical surface level and the anecdotal level are both opposed to reality in situations like this.

#113 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 11:49 AM:

Elliott Mason @ #104: Considering the sheer number of homicides involved, not many; but still, between 2005 and 2011, 41 police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter. (Of course, most of them were either acquitted or convicted of lesser charges.)

#114 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 12:25 PM:

Theophylact @ 113

Assuming an average of 1000 police killings a year, with 41 prosecutions from 2005 to 2011... that's 1 prosecution for every 169 police shootings over a 7 year period.

If we take the numbers from the Washington Post above, we can expect about 127 police shootings every year of people who are unarmed or using toy weapons. That's 889 over seven years, or 1 prosecution for every 22 killings of someone who was unarmed or using a toy weapon. (I'd expect that most of the people using toy weapons were children, but could be wrong about that.)

For purely unarmed people... about one prosecution for every 16 people killed.

Yes, it sucks.

#115 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 12:51 PM:

Remember what I said about escalation? Example. (warning -- video autoplays)

The cop claims that the driver was trying to run him down. The dashcam footage says, not so much. And the cop shot the driver in the back. Why is this escalation? The driver was white.

#116 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 05:00 PM:

Rudy Noun-Verb-9/11 has climbed out of his crypt to tell black parents that they should teach their children to fear other black kids, not the police.

How big a stake (and how much garlic) would it take to keep him in that crypt?

#117 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 07:44 PM:

This moose would suggest enclosing the crypt in reinforced high-density concrete with an outer jacket of lead or cadmium sheet.
(Then pour more concrete around that.)

Bogon shielding may require an entirely different solution, of course. (Perhaps a PTFE coffin and ClF3 might do. LLNL may have the answer in this case?)

#118 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 08:02 PM:

Converting the contents of the crypt to a hot plasma may be sufficient. It's all about entropy and information

#119 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 11:17 PM:

Nuke it from orbit?

#120 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 11:43 PM:

I merely wish him a long and peaceful life far from the public eye. And far from me. This should not be taken as condoning anything he's done in the public eye.

#121 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2016, 11:57 PM:

It's been a hard week. I have been trying to practice what Buddhism calls Right Speech, which means that one abstains from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from "idle chatter." Since AFAICT the Book of Face is 80% dedicated to exactly those things, I've been trying, though not entirely succeeding, to stay away from it. I don't engage with Twitter. I've also been trying, in conversation with friends, to not label people in ugly, dehumanizing ways (they are monsters!) while still acknowledging the ugliness of their acts and their beliefs. Since I am heartsick and (off and on) exceedingly angry at the brutality and injustice of multiple deaths, it makes for quite a lot of internal tension. And meanwhile, the day to day stuff, which is also, at the moment, quite hard, goes on, and goes on.

#122 ::: Troutwaxer ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 03:47 AM:


There is no need to suggest violence of any kind. Please join me in hoping that Mr. Noun-Verb-9/11 moves to Tibet sometime soon, joins a monastery, and takes a lifelong vow of silence, as would be both joy-inducing and appropriate.

#123 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 10:01 AM:

The Washington Post has an exhaustive look at the breakdown of who is killed by police, and at what factors are correlated with rates of police violence. The entire lengthy article is worth reading and relevant, but if I needed to pull out one quote it would be this one:

“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal-justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors, said in April. “Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed.”

#124 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 10:42 AM:

For those wishing to investigate some data (1), the CDC has a really interesting portal at:
CDC Mortality Data

By using the appropriate mortality type filter, you can find deaths by legal intervention. Or, any disease or factor you want.

This publication, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) Study seems to indicate that the rate of police homicides has been going down, but that the rate of that rate has decreased in the last decade. This is interesting in that the overall crime rate from the FBI Crime in US seems to be falling at a steeper rate.
At a rough glance, this would seem to indicate that police tactics have not kept pace to the overall decrease in crime, but rather the police responses are based upon institutional factors(2) that may no longer be at all valid (if there was any validity in their approach before).
All methods of counting that I have seen continue to show the disproportionate killing of African Americans (and Native Americans in the CJCJ study).

(1) Note that the reporting of legal intervention deaths in the US appears to be lacking by as much as a 2x margin. See the Washington Post Police Shootings
(2) Institutional factors could be embodied in training, hiring or other factors embodied within the various departments.

#125 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 10:44 AM:


I decided to sit out a few days and think a bit before responding.

I'll try your second question first: I think the goal of this discussion overall (based on watching the rest of the commenters) has broadly two parts:

a. To express feelings about some awful things that have happened recently, and how they relate to awful things that have been going here since before the US was an independent country.

b. To understand what's going on and think about how to fix it. Part of that is fitting the latest police shootings into a coherent picture of the world, one that's informed by all our background knowledge and ideology and life experiences.

There is plenty of both in the thread. It's not just expressing outrage, and it's not just discussing what to do--it's both. I assume this is okay with you, because other than my contributions, you've not commented on anyone else doing this. I assume from this that you're finding my comments especially vexing. From context, I think you partly find my style of discussion grating, and also that you find it more so because I'm a middle-aged white guy.

One problem I've noticed is this: I've been convinced that police misconduct (particularly w.r.t. poor and minority people who have very little voice) is a major problem for like 20 years now. You can look at my View All By and see many times I've commented on it, linked to articles about it, taken part in discussions, etc. And yet, I also approach the problem from a really different set of assumptions and ideology than most of the commenters here, including you.

That probably is going to cause some level of disagreement and friction by default, especially if I bring up arguments or subjects that are usually raised by people who don't think police misconduct is a particular problem, or who would rather not address it. Thus, a couple commenters seem to think my discussing the crime rate among blacks mean I was interested in discussing black-on-black crime. That's a common derail among people who want to change the subject from police misconduct to a broader discussion of crime, but that's not remotely what I'm doing[1].

You asked whether I think it's working out. No, in general it isn't. I should probably give up on discussing politics here, at least where I disagree with the prevailing beliefs--I don't know whether it's me becoming less able to disagree politely, or the community becoming less tolerant of disagreement, or maybe me just being less in-tune with the community's views, but it feels like there are topics on which my disagreeing with the prevailing views leads to a lot of anger, in ways that don't really seem to be about factual disagreement, but rather about finding the disagreement itself offensive. Weirdly, this seems true even when I actually agree with the majority opinion in pretty substantial ways, but disagree on some of the underlying ideology.

You also asked how I feel about this stuff. I know when I get upset or stressed out, I tend to retreat into trying to be hyper-rational, and I know that can be grating. I'll work on that regardless of whether I continue to engage on issues like this here.

The recent couple cases are horrifying--especially the one where the cop apparently panicked and shot the guy with his girlfriend and kid in the car. I can't imagine what it was like for his girlfriend, or his family and friends later. And I've read (but don't know whether I got it right) that he'd been pulled over something like a hundred times in the last year or two. I assume this was one of those places where they run the city government on fines. Alternatively, it may have been one of those places where the cops just pull over anyone black whenever they drive through town. Or maybe a mix of the two--the Ferguson police appear to have been funding the government on fines, but also mainly focusing on black drivers--I'm not sure if that was simple racism or a rational-but-evil recognition that it was easier to find something wrong with a black driver's car or license that would merit a fine, and I'm not 100% sure which one would be worse.

I have a lot of hopes for race relations, long term. Police misconduct[2], especially directed at poor minorities, has been going on for a long time, it's just become a lot more visible because of cellphone cameras and such. Watching the news, it feels like things are getting worse, but I suspect it's more that the bad stuff that's been going on forever is becoming visible. Over time, I hope that drives us to improve things. I think there is common cause we could make with people who don't agree with much else, to get a lot of meaningful police reform. (Body and dash cameras with serious penalties for "accidentally" deleting the footage, getting rid of policing for a profit and civil forfeiture, etc.)

The two areas I worry about here are, first, that if people get scared of crime again, we'll see a backlash against police reform. The us-vs-them circuitry in our brains is very powerful, and can lead otherwise decent people to turn a blind eye to all kinds of mistreatment of "them" in defense of "us." (Go ask the inmates in Guantanamo Bay about this.) And second, I think there are a lot of activists and media types who live on division--on calling the other side nasty names and vilifying them till no compromise is possible. There is plenty of inflamatory rhetoric that's great for rallying the troops, but makes it really hard to make common cause with the other side where you actually agree. Again, the us-vs-them circuitry is powerful and hard to disengage, once invoked.

[1] The relevance of the black crime rate: blacks have a much higher arrest rate than whites, enough that this may explain most of all of the difference in rate of being shot by police. The natural next question to ask is what drives the higher arrest rate. If that reflects how often blacks and whites are committing crimes, we're in a different situation than if that reflects some kind of massive bias in policing.

[2] I think police shootings are small and unrepresentative subset of police misconduct generally--bad police shootings seem to generally be someone panicking or overreacting, whereas the police beating someone up for mouthing off seems to be more calculated, somehow. And at the extreme end, you have stuff like the special makeshift jails in Chicago where people can be disappeared into for awhile without access to a lawyer, or the scandals a few years back of systematically torturing confessions out of people. All that is horrible, and it's not panic or bad training, but something a lot worse.

#126 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 11:47 AM:

albatross @ 125

I think that police shootings are the tip of the iceberg. Drug laws in particular were frequently written with minorities in mind. The Anslinger quotes about marijuana and Erlichman's discussion of the drug war are very well known, and I'd also be very suspicious of the number of black women arrested for prostitution, which didn't become a crime in most places until around the turn of the 20th Century (after the Civil War.)

A great deal of work has been done to make sure the blacks are an underclass, and gigantic amounts of that work have been done by law-enforcement. As they say, "You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride."

#127 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 12:10 PM:

albatross, there's a pair of things I'm not seeing in @125:

#1. "Other people here know things I don't, and need to learn if I want to really understand what's going on."

#2. "People here report experiences (their own and others') that contradict official stats and claims, and it is often very reasonable to presume they're right when the two clash."

Earlier in the thread, for instance, we collectively poked at the difference between "the dead suspect threatened the officer with a weapon" and "the officer reported that the dead person threatened them with a weapon". The same kind of thing applies widely, and it's important to acknowledge who has a history of being right on a subject, and paying attention to why they were right, and to make changes that I the observer can stop being as wrong as I've been.

#129 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 02:02 PM:

albatross @125:

First off, everything that Bruce Baugh @127 says.

I think the goal of this discussion overall (based on watching the rest of the commenters) has broadly two parts...

I think you're missing the human-interaction relationship between the two purposes of the thread that you cite. Processing this sort of thing as a community is a process; we start at one place and journey to another. (a) is necessary, both for those people who process emotions publicly and to create a sense of mutual trust and shared goals that allows (b) to happen. You can't skip that step. That's not how communities work, as you've been finding out in this thread.

From context, I think you partly find my style of discussion grating, and also that you find it more so because I'm a middle-aged white guy.

You have causality reversed there. It's true that the style of discussion you refer to is both characteristic of middle-aged white guys and grating to me. But honestly, it's grating no matter who does it. It's just that the people who generally have the societal standing to get away with it, develop it, make it their personal style, are middle-aged white guys. (Though #notall middle-aged white guys do it.) Almost everyone else finds it severely deprecated, not to say actively punished, behavior fairly early on and doesn't pursue it.

It's the online equivalent of the in-person privilege of being allowed to talk over other people while successfully objecting to being talked over one's self. (Indeed, that is the precise nature of the conversation about whether any suggestions you might have for how to more effectively protest should be given the respect you felt they were due.)

I've been convinced that police misconduct (particularly w.r.t. poor and minority people who have very little voice) is a major problem for like 20 years now.

Your history in this matter, and in many other matters, is why I continue to value your presence in the community. (Also, I like you when you let your hair down and talk non-politics.)

I also approach the problem from a really different set of assumptions and ideology than most of the commenters here, including you.

Ever considered setting them out explicitly, at least as they become relevant to the conversation at hand? Honestly, it would build a lot more bridges than leaving people kinda guessing. Some people see the veil and guess the worst about what's behind it.

Your call, and your privacy.

I don't know whether it's me becoming less able to disagree politely, or the community becoming less tolerant of disagreement, or maybe me just being less in-tune with the community's views, but it feels like there are topics on which my disagreeing with the prevailing views leads to a lot of anger, in ways that don't really seem to be about factual disagreement, but rather about finding the disagreement itself offensive. Weirdly, this seems true even when I actually agree with the majority opinion in pretty substantial ways, but disagree on some of the underlying ideology.

Have you considered the impact of your discussion style? How you come across? Although there are views that simply cannot fit into this community (no community can really hold all views), quite often it turns out that the biggest sources of friction are not the content of comments, but the way they're expressed. In particular, people who do not seem to think they have anything to learn from the community, or who come across as trying to control the discourse, tend to do poorly.

I tend to retreat into trying to be hyper-rational, and I know that can be grating.

Yes. But you also are less prone to self-examination, for instance, identifying your assumptions and elisions, and have a strong impulse to control the direction of the conversation. Neither of which you do when you're not under stress.

Which is to say, you may be trying to be hyper-rational, but that's not what you end up being.

I don't want you to dismantle your coping mechanisms for this community, but I also want you not to damage your relationship with the community, or its own coping mechanisms, in order to preserve your own.

#130 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 02:11 PM:

This NYT article describes an economist's analysis of police/citizen encounters. He found no difference in willingness of the police to shoot blacks once the circumstances of the encounter were taken into account, but big differences in willingness of the police to do most other stuff (handcuffing, tazing, wrestllng to the ground, etc.). In general, the police were willing to make the whole process a lot nastier for a black person than a white person, but not more willing to shoot a black person than a white person.

I'm not sure what's going on there. It may be that the common protests and media coverage of the police shooting blacks causes policemen to hesitate a bit before shooting. It could be that the cops generally know that they won't get into much trouble for anything short of shooting someone, but that shooting someone will inevitably lead to an investigation. Or it may be that this is all an artifact of the specific data Fryer had.

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 02:12 PM:

albatross: At least one of the reasons that people seem to be quicker to lose patience with you than they used to be is that we keep having to cover the same ground over and over again with you.

One common pattern is that you'll say "we don't know what causes X" in the same thread where people have been posting links to analyses of what causes X. Right here in your post, you make that statement about arrest rates when it's already been discussed that blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites for the same behavior, are less likely to be offered a lesser charge or a plea bargain, and get heavier sentences if a case goes to trial. WE KNOW THIS, and yet you keep saying "we don't know this," and people keep explaining it to you, and it doesn't sink in. And then the next time Topic X comes up, there you are making the selfsame argument that "we don't know what causes X" as though the entire previous discussion never took place.

After a while, that gets really, really old. A fair amount of what you're perceiving as people being testier with you than they used to be is the direct result of a feeling of "*eyeroll* oh jeez, here we go again".

#132 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 02:47 PM:

A good bad example of policing:
A homeowner in Baton Rouge gave permission for BLM protesters to use her property.
The Baton Rouge police came onto the property - without permission - and started arresting people for, they said, planning to block a highway.

See also the photos of them in full body armor, facing unarmed and unarmored demonstrators. (One veteran, seeing them, said they'd never worn that much armor in Afghanistan.)

#133 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 02:48 PM:

One other thing:

I don't know whether it's me becoming less able to disagree politely, or the community becoming less tolerant of disagreement, or maybe me just being less in-tune with the community's views

One thing that has changed over the course of my time as a moderator on this site is the tone of the internet. There's a lot more trolling...a lot more people with little or no ostensible emotional investment in the conversation* getting involved specifically to burn through the energy of their interlocutors. The reaction to that is not natural human tribalism coming to the fore; it's a genuine, well-founded mistrust of the degree to which disagreement is genuine engagement, worth engaging back with.

Not a force of nature. A learned behavior, for good reasons.

* A lot of them do have emotional investment in the conversation, but...shielded. A couple of layers deeper than the people they're trying to get a rise out of.

#134 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 03:03 PM:

re 125: I've started to see within the last day a right-wing meme coming out that "statistics show" that, well, it's OK if the police shoot some innocent blacks, because presumably they're shooting enough innocent whites to make up for that. OK, they don't phrase it that way, but if I take things to their logical conclusion....

OK, so to start with, the only statistics that are really worth anything are deaths. Everything else is too tainted by reporting issues. But anyway, what does it matter? I do not see why, with the kind of absolutist rights ideas that underlie our laws, that quantifying abuse is necessary before trying to eliminate it.

#135 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 03:09 PM:

This thread--particularly Lee @ 131 - has reminded me why I rarely comment on Making Light anymore.

#136 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 03:18 PM:

SamChevre @135:

Except when you do, and there's been some interesting conversation in the Open Thread that you've been part of recently.

I do get what you're saying. I wish I knew what to do about it, how to turn back the clock from the situation I describe in 133. But I cannot solve the internet. These days, for Reasons, I can't even solve much of Making Light, though I do try.

#137 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 03:22 PM:

albatross @ 67

"Anecdotally, I've seen and heard pretty good evidence that most people who get charged are guilty of something at least related to what they're charged with (the police usually have a pretty good idea of who's up to no good),"

All of the sudden, you're trusting anecdotes?

It sounds to me as though police don't do enough work in the same neighborhood to know very much about who's up to no good, or at least that's not the sort of knowledge they mention-- they seem to talk about the circumstances surrounding their encounter with someone, or they talk about criminal records.

Henry Louis Gates was arrested because a police officer thought Gates was trying to break into his own home. In other words, the officer not only didn't have an idea of who had a bad reputation on his beat, he didn't even know who lived there.

Anecdotally, I keep hearing about students who get defined as good or bad, and then teachers become very bad at allocating blame.

I put weight on the fact that black people are generally more afraid of police than white people. This isn't guaranteed to be a reliable method of finding out what's going on (if nothing else, it's going to be slow to include change), but it isn't nothing.

Unfortunately, I don't have links, but I've recently seen a couple of things by black men who said they thought that being deferential and compliant with police would be enough to keep them safe, and they were very unhappy (sorry, I don't remember where they were on the sad-to-angry-to-terrified spectrum) to find out that they might get killed anyway.

#138 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 03:33 PM:

#136 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη

Maybe it's time for a cooking thread.

#139 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 04:14 PM:

Nancy @137: I thought Henry Louis Gates was arrested because his neighbors thought he was trying to break into his own home and called the police. In other words, not only did the officer not have an idea of who had a bad reputation on his beat, it wasn't even his beat! (And his own neighbors didn't know who lived there.)

Anecdotally, I keep hearing about that one black guy who had a good encounter with the police, which must mean that all those black guys who had bad encounters with police must have done something to deserve it, right? (I hope my sarcastic tone comes across OK).

To go another route, I have seen a few comments else-net to the effect that now gun owners are upset because the Castile killing means that not only blacks, but gun owners, are being targeted by police. Part of me is feeling "you are missing the point, and your racism is showing", and part of me is feeling "...yeah, whatever, as long as it gets you on board."

#140 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 04:14 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz #138:

I started keeping a cooking diary of weeknight dinners close to two years ago as a bit of a lark & for other reasons; gave me stuff to post that wasn't someone else's content, and also stuff that was less doom & gloom.

It's been an interesting exercise & turns out that overall I cook more Asian meals than European ones, which is not altogether surprising given my background, and the simplicity* of many Asian dishes. I'm thinking stirfries of which there are many many variations one could employ to stave off boredom. You can also see the extent of my repertoire (which isn't as meagre as I thought) & the sorts of dishes I fall back on (they tend to be ones that don't take much effort for a delicious result).

*I try to minimise the amount of time spent preparing dinners on weeknights. It's different at the weekends where I'm more likely to do something slow-cooked, or which requires a bit more effort/time in the kitchen.

#141 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 04:36 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 138...

My wife cooks an excellent ham casserole, if I may say so.

#142 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 04:43 PM:

re 131: As the person most likely to align with Albatross, my perspective is this: even assuming that one of the ultimate causes is racism, police violence is something we can deal with as a proximate cause, and for which there are known solutions. This is not at all to say that I don't think racism plays a big part in what's going on, because I think it is a big part. But fixing other people's racism is, historically, a very difficult problem, maybe intractable given the tools we have now. Managing the police better takes only the political will to do so, and that can be generated.

#143 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 05:37 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @138: Maybe it's time for a cooking thread.

You can unilaterally start one on the Open Thread. Or, actually, so could I.

#144 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 06:58 PM:

San Francisco's police chief had a panel take a look at what could be changed at his department, and the police union is Not At All Happy with the report. For one thing, the panel didn't have any cops on it, therefore it can't possibly be valid.
(Don't go to the comments.)

The recommendations were things like more training in de-escalating and defusing tensions, and less use of firearms to intimidate people.

#145 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 07:15 PM:

C Wingate:

The best starting point I've seen for police reform is this package. There are a couple of these proposals I'm not sure are a good idea, but overall, they're probably a good starting point, and they come from some people who've thought long and hard about this stuff. Most of these seem like they will work about as well whether racism drives 10% of police misconduct or 90% of police misconduct, over a wide range of causes of police shootings, etc. I could imagine a pretty broad political and social coalition being built up for a lot of these items. (Which is necessary, because many of the most important of them already have a natural constituency to resist them.)

In particular, having an independent investigating agency and an independent prosecutor for police misconduct cases seems really important. Similarly, body and dash cameras (with serious penalties for having the footage go missing) seem like a pure win, and will work equally well to defend a policeman from a false accusation of misconduct as to catch evidence of misconduct.

Since something like a quarter of the Post's police shooting cases involved someone having some kind of a mental health crisis, I think working out some better way to deal with people having such a crisis than sending the cops would be a huge win. I'm not sure what that would look like--maybe sending out a social worker or psychiatric nurse to be the front man dealing with the person having the crisis, and have the cops be their backup in case things go horribly wrong?

I think ending for-profit policing is probably the biggest deal of all. For-profit policing creates a lot of tense traffic stops, any one of which can go catastrophically wrong. And those stops aren't even trying to prevent crime or make the streets safer, but to raise money. Worse, it completely destroys the notion that the police and courts are on your side if you're law-abiding, and turns them into tax-farming operations. If you were trying to find a way to make the poor people in your community hate and distrust the legal system, this is the way you'd do it. (It makes me think of the way antisemitism was fed, in some of Eastern Europe, by the nobility using Jews as tax collectors.)

#146 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 07:18 PM:

Buddha Buck, #139: Anecdotally, I keep hearing about that one black guy who had a good encounter with the police, which must mean that all those black guys who had bad encounters with police must have done something to deserve it, right? (I hope my sarcastic tone comes across OK).

OMG YES THIS. Someone on my FC friendslist, who is normally much more clueful than this, posted that one. I pushed back by noting that I'd had a frightening encounter with an aggressive, angry cop, and did this mean that my life was in more danger than the black guy's during a routine traffic stop? OF COURSE NOT. The thing is that your life shouldn't depend on the mood of the cop who pulls you over, or the color of your skin, or what bumper sticker you've got on your car.

C. Wingate, #142: Fixing police brutality in general will have effects beyond those directly related to race; but also, fixing police brutality will significantly reduce racial tension in general, because people who are terrified for their lives act differently from those who aren't, and those differences themselves can become sources of tension. Sometimes the best way to handle a problem is to start with the symptoms.

#147 ::: privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 07:58 PM:

Elliot #88: I have been away, but I just wanted to say I think you are making some unwarranted assumptions about what I meant. For instance, I never said that fighting one problem necessarily removes resources from fighting the other and I certainly did NOT say we should focus on what only affects white people.

I considered using one chemical with differing effects and I probably could have made the analogy work with that model too. Perhaps what you missed from the analogy is that black people are affected by the second carcinogen as well as the first. I am not a doctor, but I was thinking, perhaps erroneously, that pancreatic is more deadly/harder to treat than stomach cancer. I was also going for the point that you can have a more immediately acute problem and a more widespread problem, both of which would be of concern for slightly different reasons.

Since my solution was that everyone should work together to solve both problems, I am not sure why you think "Solve one, solve all" is opposed to the fundamental message of my post.

#148 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 09:10 PM:

One thing I've noticed is that some of these "objective" studies make the point that police misconduct might be as much correlated with neighborhood as with the race of the victim (which gets presented as if that somehow makes it OK). And of course poor and predominantly-minority neighborhoods have more crime than middle-class white neighborhoods. And it occurred to me that besides the old "the law forbids rich and poor alike from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges", another reason could be that the police are not nearly as effective as they could be in those neighborhoods, because many residents avoid any contact with the police (for fear of being a victim of misconduct).

So if we could cut down on police misconduct, maybe we could get people in poor mostly-minority neighborhoods to interact more readily with the police, which means the police could do a better job fighting crime in those neighborhoods. Which in turn would mean the police would be less fearful and tense in those neighborhoods, which might further reduce misconduct.

I don't think this is a problem where there's a single solution, and if we fix that one thing, everything will be better. No matter how much we study the statistics, we're not going to find a magic leverage-point. I think this is a problem where a variety of causes interact and feed back on each other to produce an intertwined collection of problems. There's racism. There's militarization of the police (in equipment, training, and attitude). There's lack of outside oversight. There's the "blue wall", and the "us-vs-them" mentality. There's the idea that police brutality is a good thing, as long as it's directed at the right targets. I don't think any of these things can be fixed in isolation.

#149 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 09:40 PM:

Militarization of police... someone posted a picture from the police riot at the 1968 DNC, and remarked on how little armor the cops were wearing, even though they had obviously come out expecting trouble -- mostly just helmets, not even bulletproof vests.

Contrast with this photo of two cops in full military armor threatening an unarmed woman wearing a long flowing dress at a BLM protest in Baton Rouge.

Seems to me as though one thing which could be done very quickly would be to outlaw the use of military equipment by domestic police forces except under rigidly-defined conditions. How many of these guys are role-playing themselves as military heroes, with their fellow citizens cast in the role of the enemy army?

#150 ::: privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 09:52 PM:

To clarify, while I considered using one carcinogen, in the end I used two because in reality there ARE at least two. While there are historical and instrumental linkages between the two factors, I don't think the abuse of violence and control by the state will be solved by the end of racism, nor do I believe that reforming the people's relation to the state will necessarily end racism. In most circumstances, accomplishing one solution would probably ameliorate, but not solve, the other situation.

Elliot conjectured that I wanted a solution that would allow for continuing pools of excess mortality in African American populations. [I didn't, but let's assume I did for argument's sake.] Elliot's approach would even out mortality over the entire population, but leave it high in absolute numbers and possibly rising.

To get away from the confrontational and back to more productive lines, I think there is a strange dynamic to racism in the United States. On paper racism is against the status quo. Under the surface of the laws and the rhetoric racism is the de facto status quo, but it takes the posture of being revolutionary because on paper it is. As people get more and more damaged by the depredations of the current power structure, they will look for things that are clearly signal they are not business as usual. And organized racists are ironically and bitterly the largest and most active anti-establishment force in the US currently.

African Americans and liberal allies are basically arguing for the status quo to actually be what it says on the label. At the same time people are generally becoming more and more angry at and afraid of the status quo. However, they don't differentiate between the marketing and the actual product; so they are reacting against the good aspects of the status quo's rhetoric.

We have an establishment that actually is racist, but says it's not. We have a modest, but growing opposition that wants the freedom to say out loud that it is racist. We have a "left" that is already part of the establishment and wants it to be nicer, but not change any fundamentals. We also have people who disagree with the "left" on almost everything, but cannot leave it because the immediate consequences are too horrible on a few key issues. Year after year, these people slowly abrade away anyway.

If you think this is a good posture for the left, prepare for a Tea Party President in 2020 or 2024. If you think I am just crazy, take a look at the sides in the Brexit debacle: Tory vs UKIP with no third option, while New Labour politicians blame Old Labour politicians and the rank and file for not campaigning hard enough for the "good" conservatives. (With a number of English voters wishing the SNP of all things was an option south of the border.)

Bringing it back to the specific issue, I don't think racism is the only driving factor in this phenomenon. However, I do think it is a hugely important factor and that it operates in more than one way. I don't think we should back burner Black Lives Matter. I don't think we should back burner more general reform. I think we should do our best to make common cause and I think the onus lies on white citizens to get more active on both fronts: 1) because white people have more distance to go to get right and 2) because I think African Americans are more likely to be open to both movements and will be more open still if they see white liberals actually walk the walk. And if they cannot reach this conclusion on moral grounds, then as a practical matter of survival white middle class liberals also have to start taking class more seriously. (You will when you or your children are actually forced into the class struggle, but that might be a little late.)

#151 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 11:00 PM:

C. Wingate @142 said: But fixing other people's racism is, historically, a very difficult problem, maybe intractable given the tools we have now. Managing the police better takes only the political will to do so, and that can be generated.

The problem is that, historically in the US, problems that primarily harm Black and brown Americans do not "generate political will" in any meaningful way. Unless the affected people agitate, make noise, disrupt white lives, or outright threaten violence.

Once it's a white person problem, sure -- political will all over the place.

But ignoring that the ability to generate political will is itself racialized ... misses a point.

#152 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 11:02 PM:

Shorter me @151: We don't have to fix "other people's racism". We have to make the system less racist in how it operates.

If interactions with authority really were the same for people of all races, we'd be most of the way to a solution for this mess. But they're not. Because individual racist reflexes on the part of all the little moving parts are treated as unchangeable sand in the gears, instead of being handled as a specific dysfunction to be prioritized in the maintenance schedule.

#153 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2016, 11:08 PM:

Clarifying myself again: I don't care what you believe in your heart as long as you do your d** job. If your job was performed evenhandedly, your opinions about race are mostly irrelevant and can be glossed over.

Act on ACTIONS, not purity of heart or intention. When troubleshooting a situation, look at inputs and outputs, and consider ways to adjust methods. If the outputs are strongly differentiated for users of different races even when inputs are similar, you have a mechanism problem.

#154 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 01:04 AM:

Elliott Mason: Right on. The system doesn't require all of us to be reliably anti-racist all the time. What it requires is enough of us - in particular, enough of us white people - to want it enough of the time that we support setting up procedures to reward acting in non-racist ways and discourage and pushing acting in racist ones.

There was a really good discussion of this in, of all things, a philosophy book called The Libertarian Idea, by Jan Narveson. He built up a thoughtful edifice on ponderings about the stuff we commit to in various ways versus our whims of the moment, and the ways in which acting against what someone wants to do right now really is honoring their broader-scale desires.

#155 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 03:11 AM:

Albatross@130 -- I thought the Times article made it really unclear in a few places where and how the statistics the gent was working with came from. That is, there were a few different studies he was doing his research from, and the Times blurred them together. That said, the results seemed interestingly counter-intuitive and worth paying attention to.

Also Albatross, @125, on the assumptions and ideology -- how do you mean? (I ask from a desire for more conversation.)

@145 -- Yes, it seems body cameras are a thing already in process in quite a number of places, though, clearly, there needs to be some clarification on the 'keep them in place, tyvm' thing. Independent review and independent prosecution are fairly straightforward to have happen, if someone politically ept gets ahold of them. I assume it has to happen on state levels, yes?

#156 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 09:51 AM:


My view is that racism is what maintains the abusive practices. Or more precisely, maintains the impunity without which the abusive practices are unsustainable.

It doesn't necessarily have to be racism that supports abusive practices, but there does need to be a dividing line that lets enough of the population believe that the abuse is never going to be turned on THEM. Just THOSE people. Over THERE.

And in the U.S. the dividing line is created by racism.

#157 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 10:10 AM:

“Yes, we have white folks out there, about one in every ten thousand, and they don't think anything of it and neither do we. You can't hide from the universe. You're going to be tramped under with color – all the colors of the rainbow!” And he understood then that that was exactly what they feared.

In 1957's short story “All The Colors of the Rainbow”, Leigh Brackett has Earth join something like the Federation soon after entering the Space Age. Many aliens have been coming down to Earth to help us eventually reach the organization's technological level and to clean up our environment. That's how an alien couple finds itself driving thru a small American town of the South which is proud of never having had any issue with racial integration because, well, black folks had all decided they wanted to go live elsewhere so it never was an issue. But... The couple looks like white humans, except that their skin is green, and that is enough for the town to feel threatened – and inferior – to these two 'colored' people. Things do not go well for anybody involved.

#158 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 11:01 AM:

albatross @145: I think working out some better way to deal with people having such a crisis than sending the cops would be a huge win.

I've been thinking for a long time that if it were up to me to tear the whole thing down and rebuild it from scratch, I'd be inclined to apply more of a medical model (heal the brokenness) to policing than the military model (win the conflict).

#159 ::: a Brit passing by ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 11:54 AM:

albatross @145: I think working out some better way to deal with people having such a crisis than sending the cops would be a huge win.

Over here in the UK we have people called street pastors. They're Christians, which many not be to the taste of everyone here. But they're effective.

#160 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 02:18 PM:

On #145 and mental health, here in the UK (I am not an expert etc) we used to at least try and have a functioning mental health system that meant nobody ends up in such a state that they go on to harm themselves or other people. That is not so clear these days with massive budget cuts.

But because our police are not generally armed, apart from some with tasers, it does mean people who are having some sort of crisis don't end up dead. It's as simple as that.
I recall a friend who worked as a mental health nurse for a few years at the start of the century yarning about various things that had happened, including incidents where the police were really scared of the mad bloke and one of the nurses just went out and talked the mad bloke down. If the policement had guns, then every such scary problem is solvable with violence.

#161 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 02:41 PM:

The truth of the matter? We need to get back to the model where police are a part of the community. I.E., the cop walking the beat, or these days, maybe on a bicycle. When you know the folks in the neighborhood, when you see them and say "Hi" every day, and see that you're dealing with PEOPLE not perpetrators, you're less likely to shoot them.

After 9/11 I made the point of saying "hello" and chatting with every police officer, building security person, and other public servants (EMTs, etc) when I encountered them IF they weren't in the middle of dealing with a situation.

When my office moved to a new building, I went and said "goodbye" to all the security staff I could find. The head of the detail told me he'd miss me -- and that he wished he had more tenants like me. I glowed for the rest of that day.

#162 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 04:05 PM:


I think one thing that's tricky about this whole issue is that policing is local. The problems, resources, culture, history, etc., of the Baltimore City Police are not the same as the problems of the Boone County, Missouri Sheriff's Dept. There are some things that could be done at a federal level, like getting rid of federal programs to provide surplus military equipment to local police departments. But most of the changes that we need will have to happen at the local or state level.

#163 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 04:53 PM:

We could start by setting national training standards for police. 'Local' only works as long as no one ever moves to another place.

#164 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 04:55 PM:

kicking the server....

We could start by setting national training standards for police. 'Local' only works as long as no one ever moves to another place.

#165 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 05:17 PM:

re 151/152: What I'm saying is that I don't think you can "make the system less racist in how it operates", at least not on those terms, without having people be less racist. And with regard to the behavior at hand, I don't think "evenhanded" is a good enough standard, but at any rate when it's one cop in his car on a street, the only "system" that matters is in his head. A statistical assessment of what he did is not as straightforward as a review of the procedure of an incident in isolation.

#166 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2016, 08:02 PM:

"Revolution begins in the signifier." This is the value of outright political correctness (not the politeness and courtesy most RWers mean when they use the phrase). If social constraints make say racist things or behave in a racist way, if blatant racism is the target of shaming, then the next generation will grow up not having heard it, not having seen it done by people they love.

This is not enough, of course. But it's an essential component.

It also worked in my family. My grandparents were pretty racist, especially on my father's side; even his sister was one of those people who says things that make your jaw drop in horror at sharing genes with them. His mother believed that "foreigners" were all bad; I remember her saying that "Siryan Siryan [sic] was a foreigner and look what he did." I remember knowing, even as a child, that her logic was flawed, but didn't realize until much later that my parents, especially my dad, taught us some basics of logic before we could read, and why.

I don't know what was in my parents' hearts as far as racism. I don't know if they had racist feelings and thoughts (I mean, more than I or other white people do). What matters is that they didn't convey those things to their kids.

#167 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 09:18 AM:

C. Wingate #165: As far as "one cop in his car", for starters that's where training comes in. Training is exactly how we put a "system" in a cop's head. That system can include the techniques we know about for countering unconscious bias, and it can include a means for recognizing and banishing bad actors from their fraternity. Which leads to the other issue, which is accountability. Right now, brutal and murderous cops are simply not being weeded out of the pool, and they need to be. As the saying goes, "one bad apple spoils the barrel" -- and that's what we're seeing on the police forces. And yes, we damn well need that national registry.

#168 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 01:15 PM:


It seems like police shootings should be at least somewhat affected by training the police receive, because those are things that generally happen in a fast, high-stress, scary situation. That's probably the time you're most likely to fall back on your training. But I'm not too confident of that--I simply have no experience at all with this kind of situation.

I think it's hard to make many confident statements about the nature of police shootings or (more broadly) police misconduct, because there hasn't been a lot of data collected on them until very recently. I know the FBI director has said that they're going to improve the data collection on police shootings, so hopefully this will get better. But without that data (and other than the Post's and Guardian's data, we would have very little), what we hear about is the subset of the cases that trigger protests and/or become major media stories. That could easily select for the worst cases, or specific characteristics of the shooting.

#169 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 01:20 PM:


The paper is linked to in the article, and is quite readable. The first part of the paper goes into a lot of detail about where his data came from, and its limitations. There's one section later on where he goes into the hardcore econometrics (mathematical modeling of police behavior), but you don't really have to follow the details to get most of what he's talking about. I very much recommend reading it. (It wasn't behind an obvious paywall for me, but I downloaded it from work, and we may have a subscription or something.) One of the best things about web journalism is that stories can link to the thing they're reporting on--you don't have to trust a reporter to summarize the thing for you.

Re the ideology stuff--maybe later; I'd rather not derail this thread.

#170 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 01:30 PM:

re 167: In that light I came across an interesting Atlantic article this morning about cops talking about the role of training and especially hiring. I especially find interesting the one who's talking about the need to to hire less aggressive officers.

#171 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 01:34 PM:

re 169: Disclaimer from the paper: "Our results have several important caveats. First, all but one dataset was provided by a select group of police departments. It is possible that these departments only supplied the data because they are either enlightened or were not concerned about what the analysis would reveal. In essence, this is equivalent to analyzing labor market discrimination on a set of firms willing to supply a researcher with their Human Resources data!" They also note that "fifteen police departments across the country were contacted by the author: Boston, Camden, NYC, Philadelphia, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, six Florida counties, and Tacoma, Washington. Importantly for thinking about the representativeness of the data – many of these cities were a part of the Obama Administration’s Police Data Initiative."

You might well be justified in interpreting this as the best possible results under current systems. They surely do not represent the worst.

#172 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 05:01 PM:

C Wingate:

I think something similar is true of the existing FBI data on justifiable homicides by the police--the best-run police departments are probably the ones providing the data.

That said, his data is quite rich and informative. It's imperfect, but also enormously better than what was previously available.

#173 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2016, 06:32 PM:

C. Wingate, #170: Less aggressive, yes -- and also we need to be hiring smarter officers. There are police departments that have an intelligence ceiling for hiring -- if you're too smart, you don't make the cut -- and I can't help thinking that it's from the same kind of reasoning that wants to gut public education: people who are too smart, too capable of critical thinking, are likely to notice and point out flaws rather than just doing as they're told. Or even to act on their own initiative, when they see that "just following orders" is only going to make things worse.

#174 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2016, 10:13 AM:

Radley Balko on how much the statistics on police shootings leave out.

#175 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2016, 01:15 PM:


Radley Balko's post is very good, and he's another person who's been thinking hard about this stuff for many years.

It's interesting that Fryer's data (including the self-report data from police) shows a pattern of policemen using more force on blacks than on whites, in similar circumstances. (That's backed up by the survey on police encounters.) My guess is that this is revealing something that the police themselves may not really even be conscious of.

The good news with police shootings is that they're hard to disappear--probably a lot of times when the police rough someone up, and then decide not to charge them and set them free, it doesn't get recorded. But once someone gets killed, there's going to be an official inquiry, and at least at this point, there's going to be a record of the death.

The bad news with police shootings is that the police have a couple obvious biases: First, they have an incentive to describe the situation in a way that makes them as blameless as possible. Second, the fact that they shot the guy is strongly correlated with them having perceived themselves to be in danger, whether they were right or wrong.

#176 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2016, 02:33 PM:


Despite the problems with the Post data (and any other data I can imagine us getting), I think it gives us enormously more information than we had before. And I think there are two things that are important to remember here:

a. The data is imperfect--much of it is based on police reports that have various kinds of bias. Further, this is true of all the data we have on this kind of thing. If we base our picture of what police shootings look like on media reports or eyewitness reports, we will also have imperfect data. Even stuff like Youtube videos of police shootings can be misleading, because you probably never see anything but the outrageous shootings.

b. That imperfection doesn't mean it makes sense to just dismiss anything that comes out of the data that disagrees with your starting beliefs. It's too damned easy to demand a higher standard for evidence that contradicts your views than evidence that supports them. It's also extremely common in political rhetoric, where science absolutely and totally proves the stuff I already believe, but where it comes to conclusions I dislike, the data is deeply flawed and the scientists are corrupted by industry or liberals or racists or sensationalizing their results to get funding or whatever.

Radley's seat-of-the-pants estimate was that more than half of police shootings were probably unavoidable, and that a large fraction of the remainder were probably legal (that is, the policeman committed no crime in shooting the victim), but were avoidable. If we look at cases where there was both an active attack and a deadly weapon (according to the reports, which probably overstate both), that's like 63% of cases.

That won't capture everything--some unavoidable police shootings won't have had an active attack with a deadly weapon (think of someone pointing a real-looking BB gun at the cop), some avoidable police shootings will have had both an active attack and a deadly weapon (like no-knock drug raids, where just waiting till the morning and showing up with a warrant would have avoided the "unavoidable" shooting). I'm not sure how we'd estimate those two parameters.

And some unknown fraction of the police shooting reports will have overstated the seriousness of the situation, as the policeman back-justified his panicked decision to shoot. Some subset of those may have still been unavoidable, but probably not very many. Again, estimating this fraction looks pretty hard to me, for many of the same reasons that estimating the fraction of people in prison who are actually innocent is quite hard.

I'd guess the reality is somewhere between Radley's "more than 50%" estimate and that 63% we get by looking at the Post's data and taking it at face value. How would we get a better estimate?

#177 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2016, 02:44 PM:

But once someone gets killed, there's going to be an official inquiry

Usually, it's a cursory investigation, concluding that it's justified, if the victim is black. Even if there's video and eyewitnesses, unless there's a lot of public pressure, this happens.

#178 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2016, 03:46 PM:

Not just if the victim is black. From what Radley Balko's article said, something like 1% of police shootings end up with the shooter being charged with a crime as a result. From the post's data, about half the police shooting victims were white in 2015. The police almost never end up being charged with a crime, let alone convicted of anything. (I think police departments often do end up paying out on big wrongful-death lawsuits, however.)

#179 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2016, 07:38 PM:

These recent cases have gotten even my right-wing coworker to say black lives matter. When he saw it happen to a concealed carry permit holder, he was converted. "The second amendment is for everybody."

#180 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2016, 02:42 PM:

More war stories, this one from the lone black GOP senator. There are some others in the comments if you have the stomach and the stamina to wade through the idiocy.

#181 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2016, 10:40 PM:

C. Wingate #180:

That article, which is quite good, has a very interesting idea right near the end: Give the job of enforcing traffic laws to a separate agency, which need not be armed, so as to remove what amounts to a "general warrant" from the police.

#182 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2016, 01:01 PM:

Two police and one sheriff's deputy dead in Baton Rouge overnight. News is scarce, but it looks like an ambush.

Fuck. This could be a long summer.

#183 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2016, 01:20 PM:

This is beginning to feel extremely appropriate:

#184 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2016, 01:37 PM:

P J Evans @ 183

Sorry P J. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Cthonservative, and I'll be voting for Cthulhu. The problem with Giant Meteor is that after it destroys all life on Earth, the souls of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Hillary Clinton, and other horrific examples of political evil will still exist, and might be subject to reincarnation.

If Cthulhu wins the election, he will eat the souls of his rivals, making sure that the unworthy are not subject to reincarnation.


#185 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2016, 01:52 PM:

Needs to be on a bumper sticker....

#186 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2016, 02:31 PM:

I think it is available as a bumper sticker. I know its available as a T-Shirt. There are several places online selling Cthulhu For President merchandise, so get out your credit card and google!

#187 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2016, 03:20 PM:

And be careful where you wear your new T-Shirt! If ever there was a slogan which might be misinterpreted, "No Lives Matter" is definitely it!

#188 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2016, 12:29 AM:

Alex, #187: No shit. I was thinking the same thing, so I'm glad you said it.

This is a specific illustration of the more general principle that when you can no longer reliably tell the difference between mordant satire and real life -- when there are people around you in any public space who might say something like that and be absolutely serious -- the problems in your society go a lot deeper than "political correctness".

#189 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2016, 01:44 AM:

Lee @ 188

"...the problems in your society go a lot deeper than "political correctness"."

Cthulhu does not come all at once. He comes in bits and dribbles when your attention is elsewhere. He pervades you and yours, he surrounds you and yours, and before long (for you and Cthulhu are one now, though you know it not) you are wading ashore at the head of an army of shoggoths, byakhee flying overhead, the gates to the impure places are opening around you, and the cloak of night covers the land; the cloak of night is sewn to the land with ichorous needles held in leprous hands, and the cloak of night does not rise from the land, for when He comes again He will not depart.

Or you can build the secret walls in the invisible places, and bless them with sage and sweetgrass, and teach your neighbors to also build the secret walls. Or you can push the darkness ever outward from your heart, and teach your neighbors to push against the darkness, that dawn shall come in its time and you need not fear those things that rise from the sea.

If there is no difference between blackest satire and the streets of your city, if black humor spills on the streets like blood and bile, the barriers between are very weak indeed, and He is coming soon.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

He is coming.

#190 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2016, 11:12 AM:

Here's a report that the man who shot police in Baton Rouge on 17 July belonged to the strange "sovereign citizen" movement.

#191 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2016, 01:01 PM:

Alex R. @189: If there is no difference between blackest satire and the streets of your city, if  black  dark humor spills on the streets like blood and bile,

Modulo one unfortunate adjective, please accept this internet.

#192 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2016, 01:02 PM:

Argh. Missed the preceeding "blackest" as well.

#193 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2016, 02:51 PM:

I deliberately got rid of the "blacks" in the first two paragraphs and left the one "black" in the third paragraph, and missed one black that should have been changed in the third paragraph. I also changed one other word which I probably shouldn't have changed, so the third paragraph should have read like this:

If there is no difference between darkest satire and the streets of your city, if black humour spills on the streets like blood and bile, the barriers between are very weak indeed, and He is coming soon.

The word I shouldn't have changed, of course, was "humor" for "humour," the grim nature of that particular pun being obvious.

#194 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2016, 11:44 AM:

Alex R.: Ah. Yes, that works. Therefore here please be in receipt of one (1) internet.

#195 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2016, 05:24 PM:


I acknowledge the receipt of one Internet, but mainly thanks to your careful editorial guidance. Thanks for catching the stuff that didn't work very well.

#196 ::: privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 09:42 AM:

This might say more about the issue than any other incident:

"When he hit me, I'm like, I still got my hands in the air," he said.
"I'm like, 'Sir, why did you shoot me?'" Kinsey said he asked the officer.
"He said to me, 'I don't know.'"

#197 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 11:06 AM:

privateiron: Yeah, I saw that. Guy did everything he possibly could to stay safe, and got shot anyway. Unbelievably WTF. And...of course, the officer will get off with no consequences.

#198 ::: privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 11:35 AM:

There are definitely conscious racist assholes in the LEO community. But there are probably many who are reacting to mostly subconscious social conditioning under stressful circumstances.* Frankly, that's also probably part of what drove two military veterans to start shooting police.

I agree if the courts and politicians actually took action in these circumstances, it would be a good start at exposing and rewiring said internalized racism. Keep waiting for the day...

*These circumstances seem to be low key enough, however, that I have a hard time believing this guy had the temperament to be a cop regardless. As Pryzbylewski showed us, plenty of nice guys have no business being police officers.

#199 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 01:51 PM:

"Sir, why did you shoot me?"

"I don't know."

What. An Asshole. What a slss, stpd pc of sbhmn crp. A jrk. A cmplt knbtr. Fuck it. Words are insufficient to describe the complete, horrible, useless idiocy of this particular police officer. I could use a phrase like "slck-jwd, gt-wnkng, cm-gzzlng, mcrcphlc mrn" and not even penetrate the top layer of how incredibly stupid this is!

#200 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 02:56 PM:

Eek! I'd be careful with those homophobic and birth-defect-based insults. Other than that, I agree with you entirely.

(Doesn't help in the slightest that my morning surfing around this dumped the whole "cop shoots family dog because reasons" thing into my brain, which really didn't improve my mood.)

#201 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 03:22 PM:

There's a consistent pattern of reports of the police:

a. Doing a lot of traffic stops targeted at blacks.

b. Being more willing to escalate (at least nonlethally[1]) with blacks than whites in the same situation.

I suspect that these two cause many times the actual damage that police shootings cause, because there are many, many times more traffic stops than shootings. And these don't capture the unofficial police beatings, which we know happen sometimes (they get caught on video), but which we don't know how to count.

Some of the ideas from Project Zero bear on this. For example, ending policing for a profit and ending broken windows policing both aim to decrease the number of interactions with the police where there's not an immediate public safety need for it.

Now, there's a tradeoff here: We want the police to stop people when there's a good reason to suspect them of some kind of crime. And that will almost certainly involve stopping more blacks per capita than whites, given the difference in crime rates[2]. But the policing-for-a-profit traffic stops aren't done based on suspicion of a crime, but rather to raise revenue. So at least in that case, we're probably not losing much safety from crime to decrease those police interactions. (On the other hand, we have to come up with cash to cover the lost revenue from the speed traps, no-trial seizures, etc.)

I don't know how much broken window policing, stop and frisk, etc., helps reduce crime. I've seen claims from people who are real experts, on both sides of that. Those look like they're plausibly actual tradeoffs, between civil rights and safety from crime/quality of life. But I don't have a clear picture of what that tradeoff looks like. (One datapoint is that stop-and-frisk was stopped at some point a couple years ago, and I gather than crime didn't go up much--that's at least one datapoint.)

[1] The most surprising bit of the Fryer paper was the difference there--finding that blacks were no more likely to be shot than whites (conditioned on all the other reported circumstances), but were consistently more likely to be handcuffed, shoved to the ground, tazed, pepper-sprayed, etc.

One possible explanation for this result, if it holds up, is that all the protests and media coverage of the cops shooting unarmed black men is having an effect--causing the cops to hesitate a bit before escalating to the point of shooting when it's a black man. If so, it's a hell of a positive impact for these protests.

[2] I'm assuming there really is a difference in crime rates, and that it's pretty substantial. I've gone over some reasons I believe this in the past. Note that I'm very willing to change this belief based on evidence, but not based on social disapproval, or accusations of bad faith or not listening or whatever. I do not believe the available evidence even remotely supports the belief that the crime rates of blacks and whites are equal.

#202 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 03:32 PM:

Alex R:

I wonder what fraction of people, immediately after that kind of action, would have a better answer. Obviously, after he's had a couple days to think it over, with advice from his lawyer and union rep, he's going to have a nice explanation using the phrase "I feared for my life." It may even be accurate. But right when it happens?

I just don't know, because I have never been anywhere close to that kind of situation. But I wouldn't assume it tells you much.

I suspect that police shootings are much, much less often about someone intentionally acting badly than they are about someone panicking or otherwise screwing up (like the subway cop who apparently grabbed his gun and thought he had his taser, in that awful case from a few years back) and killing an innocent person.

Two things I can see to make that happen less often is to decrease the number of tense interactions between the police and civilians, and to try to do a better job training and screening people for police work.

#203 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 03:48 PM:

albatross: I'm curious what your specific objective in posting your comments 201 & 202 is? It's not apparent to me from reading them.

#204 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 04:32 PM:

I've seen the suggestion elseweb that we separate traffic enforcement from other sorts of police, and not let traffic officers have firearms. Apparently, that's how many countries handle it.

We also may need a separate system of imprisonment for law enforcement. The argument is often raised, "we can't send a cop to jail, he'd be murdered". So let's release a bunch of non-violent "offenders" like people in jail for pot, consolidate, and use a few prisons for police who have been convicted of a serious crime - like shooting someone for no reason.

#205 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 06:32 PM:

@ Jaques

Eek! I'd be careful with those homophobic and birth-defect-based insults.

Not homophobic. Goat-based.

#206 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 07:23 PM:

albatross, #201: There's a lot of evidence to the effect that under the same circumstances, exhibiting the same behavior, black people are substantially more likely to be arrested and charged with a crime whereas white people get let go with a warning. There's evidence to the effect that black people who have been charged with a crime are less likely than white people to be offered a plea bargain, especially one that results in probation rather than jail time. There's even more evidence to the effect that when a case goes to trial, a black defendant is likely to get a much harsher sentence than a white one.

Are you willing to CONSIDER the idea that the combination of all these things is going to result in an artificially-inflated crime rate for blacks? That maybe blacks and whites do actually commit crimes at similar rates, but blacks are disproportionately punished for doing so?

Alex, #205: "Cum-guzzling" is definitely homophobic. Yes, really.

#207 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 08:29 PM:

Yeah, 'cum-guzzling' is a homophobic insult. If not for homophobia, it wouldn't be insulting, would it?

#208 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 10:38 PM:

Lee @ 206

I am not albatross, but I am not willing to consider that further; it's definitively contradicted by the evidence from crimes where reporting/charging biases are lower (homicide in particular). (I think similarly about domestic violence; I'm similarly unwilling to consider that women are just as violent as men, but it's not reported/charged as frequently.)

I expect that statistics over-estimate the difference in petty crime rates between blacks and whites, but the much higher death rates by murder among young black men than anyone else are hard to miss.

I'll flip the question around: are you willing to consider that differences in violent crime rates drive most of the difference in rates of police interactions between races?

#209 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2016, 11:27 PM:

@ GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER!

Didn't mean to upset you, but goats. And heterosexual cum-guzzling could also be a thing - definitely useful if you're the kind of person who slut-shames. But definitely goats, in this particular case.

Next time, however, I'll say "goat-cum guzzling" instead of just implying it, so as to prevent any misunderstanding of whether I've accused a bloodthirsty, raving idiot of homosexuality or bestiality. (I don't use homosexual insults, because of people who are close family that I love very, very much, including the same very, very much love for their partner.)

Regardless, there was no offense intended.

#210 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 12:51 AM:

SamChevre, #208: Did you really just play the "black-on-black crime" card?

I'm willing to consider it, but you'll have to find studies which control for the factors I've already mentioned. Particularly in view of the fact that any motion at all made by a black person talking to a cop tends to be interpreted as "violent" and "threatening" -- as we are seeing day by day.

#211 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 01:54 AM:

I crossed posted this from Popehat (where I use Other Internet Name,) but I thought it might be interesting to post here as well:

Cops are civil servants. Nothing more. Nothing less. And they need to get over themselves.

"Wait!" says the cop. "But I save lives!"

Building inspectors save lives too. And next time there's a big earthquake in California, building inspectors will save thousands of lives. Maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of lives if the earthquake is really big.

Paramedics, doctors, nurses, and health inspectors save lives too. But if the health inspectors in my city had a horrid record of killing unarmed people, we'd fire them all and hire new ones. And we'd put the murderous health inspectors in jail.

Or if we discovered that the building inspectors in my city were killing three black unarmed people for every white unarmed person they killed… there would be hearings, trials, TV news… you name it! The Feds would get involved and it would go down in the history books as the ____________ County Racist Building Inspector Massacre of Innocent Black People. The mayor would resign. And the deputy mayor would take over as mayor, fire some people the previous mayor forgot to fire, then resign and set himself on fire!

#212 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 05:22 AM:

Alex R. @209: Next time, however, I'll say "goat-cum guzzling" instead of just implying it

Thank you. I appreciate the clarification.

& 211: The officer in the latest mess is quoted as saying, "I took this job to save lives and help people." O.O

#213 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 06:44 AM:

SamChevre #208: Adding to Lee: A lot of ghetto crime is the direct result of people knowing that "911 don't go to Motown" -- and that goes both ways: The violent or greedy know that their victims won't be protected, and anyone under threat knows that if they don't defend themselves up front, they lose whatever the guy with the gun wants to take.

#214 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 09:30 AM:

Current reports are that the Police Benevolent Association spokesperson is saying that the cop didn't intend to shoot the unarmed black man lying in the street with his hands raised, but rather was trying to shoot the unarmed hispanic man sitting in the street playing with his toy truck.

Somehow, this is viewed (by the police union) as an improvement.

I'm inclined to think that his initial answer, "I don't know" is probably more accurate, and both the shooting and the response will (rightfully) haunt the cop for a long time, even after this incident is generally forgotten.

#215 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 11:28 AM:

albatross @201:

Before I go and get my copy of The New Jim Crow off the shelf and start a very lengthy response, I have some questions for you:

1. Are you willing to entertain the notion that systemic biases mean that conviction rate and arrest rate across demographic groups do not correlate well with the rates at which people commit crimes?

2. Are you willing to entertain the notion that your assumption that the cops "know who is up to no good" is incorrect?

3. Are you actually willing to listen, given that I have previously recommended this book to you on this thread and not gotten so much as a "That sounds interesting but I don't have time or interest to read an entire book on the subject" in response?

#216 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 12:57 PM:

I strongly recommend reading at least the beginning of The New Jim Crow.

Michelle Alexander, the author, is a civil rights lawyer, and she had a hard time believing how badly the justice system was treating black people-- for a long time, mass incarceration wasn't on the NAACP's or the Black Congressional Caucus's agendas.

#217 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 03:25 PM:

Alex R. @209: Next time, however, I'll say "goat-cum guzzling" instead of just implying it

Next time you want to say "goat-cum guzzling" why don't you consider not saying it?

Just a thought ....

#218 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 03:34 PM:

The idea that the person who receives semen is Less Than is a classic case of "You got your homophobia in my misogyny!" -- "No, you got my misogyny in your homophobia!"

#220 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 04:29 PM:

About the time the third or fourth reader tells a person that that comment isn't flying the way they thought it might, a person might consider not doubling down quite so hard, but rather finding other ways to express their vexation in the venue in question.

In my case, leaving aside whence the guzzled fluids are sourced, I really have a problem with labeling people as "subhuman". Even very very bad people indeed. It's not a path to put even a single foot upon.

So there are some vowels that are going to find their home elsewhere, in the interests of the conversation.

#221 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 04:34 PM:

Alex 209: Nicely spoken, and funny too! Thanks for a good laugh today.

Older 217: Oh, come now.

HelenS 218: I agree, but that's not what's going on here. Calling someone a goat-sucker isn't especially misogynist or homophobic IMO.

But it IS interesting the way homophobia is built on a foundation of misogyny. Calling men womanly is an insult because women are automatically less-than. If sexism were dismantled, it's hard to see how homophobia could survive. Even if I were totally selfish, I think I'd still be a feminist for that reason alone.

#222 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 04:54 PM:

Buddha Buck (#214), the only way the excuse (sic) makes sense is if you believe autistic people are terrifying. It's not necessarily about the toy truck per se. It's about a grown man sitting in the street acting all weird. He's not behaving like a normal person, so he must be crazy, and "crazy" means random attacks on crowds of strangers in modern terminology.

It's still a terrible excuse, of course. Police should be able to recognize whether a weapon is present, especially when they are explicitly told. They should be able to aim. They should provide first aid.

#223 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 05:11 PM:

Indeed, if he really was shooting at the Dangerous Autistic Man (who was even scarier because his skin was dark), why did they handcuff the innocent bystander? Why didn't they provide first aid at the scene?

I suspect they were hoping he'd bleed out, allowing them to construct the narrative without any pesky facts.

#224 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 06:32 PM:

Older @217 to Alex R. @209: Next time you want to say "goat-cum guzzling" why don't you consider not saying it?

There are times, and I concur that this is one of them, when ferocious invective is warranted. It is meet, however, to aim one's invective with care. To this end, I can heartily recommend Scalzi's example.

HelenS @218: *snerk!*

GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! @221: Oh, come now.

BAD Xopher! No biscuit! :o)

Adrian @222: It's still a terrible excuse, of course. Police should be able to recognize whether a weapon is present, especially when they are explicitly told. They should be able to aim. They should provide first aid.

One would hope that this goes without saying, but apparently—not? And that they thought their excuse made things better!?

"I took this job to save lifes and help people. I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that and hate to hear others paint me as something I'm not."

Classic confusion between intent and effect. I hope this officer is having a good hard rethink about his decision-making. And as to how others "paint" you...!?

Xopher @223: Dangerous Autistic Man (who was even scarier because his skin was dark)

I think the autistic guy was actually white. But I don't dispute your hypothesis.

#225 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 07:14 PM:

Speaking as a moderator, it's remarkable how few instances of performative and extended pungent swearing are required to (a) make me feel like I'm snorkeling through sewage, and (b) derail the conversation from the topic at hand into high-fiving the expression and arguing whether we've now expressed just the right level of outrage, with added excursions into who is and is not allowed to be bothered by it.

This is not good conversation.

Also, do remember that people do read Making Light at work sometimes.

#226 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 07:14 PM:

GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! @ 221

Thanks. I finally managed to post something that didn't come off as being "not right," I think I'm just too angry to sound sane when I start talking about this stuff.

I think a large part of the racial problems in policing are not the police themselves, but in some cases the laws they are tasked to enforce. The Harry Anslinger quotes about marijuana, plus Erlichman's quote on the subject of Nixon and "The War On Drugs" make it clear that our drug laws were written with race in mind, and they've been selectively enforced against Black/Brown people for years.

While I haven't researched the history of it, I suspect that anti-prostitution laws have a similarly racist history. (Note how anti-prostitution laws start being put into place not long after the Civil War.) If anyone has links on this I'd love to see them, but the only factual issue that comes to mind is New York's law which allows prostitution cases against women carrying condoms - I wouldn't be surprised if that law is very selectively enforced!

#227 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2016, 09:41 PM:

Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη @ 225

Outrage policing sucks generates unnecessary crosstalk. I think the appropriate thing to do is assume good-heartedness on the part of anyone who posts, barring an ugly history of racism/sexism/homophobia, etc.

I'm reminded of my Grandfather, born December 23rd of 1899, a card-carrying, doctrine-following, bible-studying and very enthusiastic member of the Brethren in Christ Church. BIC was one of the original anti-slavery churches, with an underground railroad stop in the home of the Church college's president, a peace church, (all my grandfather's sons-in-law sat out WWII as conscientious objectors,) historically one of the very most liberal denominations out there. Their college was taking Black students as early as 1855!

My grandfather would have been appalled by the recent killings of unarmed Black men. He'd have mocked Officer I-Don't-Know as savagely as I did, and much more eloquently

But there was one racially-charged word we could never get him to abandon: It was the word which, when first capitalized by the New York Times on March 7th of 1930, (after much agitation from W.E.B. Dubois) set the people of Harlem dancing in the streets. It was the word which, from my grandfather's birth in 1899 until the mid-1960s was the standard and polite way to talk about Black people.

He was still using that same archaic, now-considered-insulting word when he died in 1995. It was simply an adjustment he could never make - and it wouldn't surprise me if he was in his seventies before anyone called him out on the error. He'd say the word, the younger cousins and great-grandchildren would look scandalized, doubtless thinking that Grandpa was a horrible racist, because he wasn't PC - and the rest of us would shrug. We knew what was in his heart.

#228 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2016, 01:31 AM:

Alex R @227:

How fortunate that I am not policing your outrage. I am moderating your choice to express your outrage in a particular fashion on a particular website. Honestly, you make it sound like I'm hovering beside your desk, ruler raised, waiting for the first involuntary exclamation to pass your lips so I can bring it down on your knuckles.

But posting on Making Light is a deliberative process. The preview stage is there for a reason; it's to improve the chances that what you post is not your first unthinking reaction, but your considered contribution to an ongoing conversation. It's not just about you; it's about the people around you too, and what is going to make them smarter, wiser, and more joyful.

But the real problem I'm having is not just that you made the comment you made—people do stuff on a spectrum of wisdom—but that you've doubled down in an ironically symmetrical way if anyone questions your right, your entitlement, to express yourself in any way you choose in this conversation, because of the goodness of your heart and the righteousness of your ire.

This is the last time I'm going to express myself tactfully on this topic. If you want bluntness, you go right on ahead ignoring a moderator's direct intervention. But my sincere advice would be to go back to making the conversation about the topic at hand, the people actually suffering in this world right now, rather than about your dislike of having your choice of words questioned.

#229 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2016, 04:24 AM:

Jacque, #224: I hope this officer is having a good hard rethink about his decision-making. And as to how others "paint" you...!?

Indeed. Rather like that model who surreptitiously took a picture of someone else in the shower at her gym and posted it with a snarky, shaming comment; when it blew up in her face, she was quick to say that she "wasn't that kind of person".

In both cases... excuse me, you've just demonstrated beyond all doubt that you ARE that kind of person.

#230 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2016, 06:16 AM:

Lee: Yes, that's exactly what I was going for. Thank you for articulating it.

#231 ::: GAY! Xopher Halftongue QUEER! ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2016, 09:29 PM:

Jacque 224: BAD Xopher! No biscuit! :o)

*whines, makes puppy eyes*

#232 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 10:30 AM:

And some complications: Risk Assessment in Sentencing.

One of the promises here is possibly getting past the racial bias of individuals, in favor of some more objective standard.

The first problem is whether it's actually appropriate to sentence someone based on their likelihood to reoffend. I'm less inclined than usual to dismiss the scheme based on this, because existing sentences and probation terms already have ideas about this baked into the system. The next problem is that standard itself needs to be tested and proved.

The basic hazard here is working from proxy scores; one of the prison officials involved notes that his inmates have already gotten cannier about their interviews, and there is mention of the point that such scores can encode racial bias from various sources.

#233 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 03:05 PM:

Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη @ 228

You are of course correct. I've been having a very bad week in terms of expressing myself, and I will try to do better.

That being said, I do think we have a misunderstanding on one point. I'm not suggesting that we make an assumption of basic goodness on the part of most posters (particularly long-term posters) because I want my speech to be privileged. I propose the basic assumption of goodness because the signal-to-noise ratio of this particular thread is Just Plain Horrible.

While I must take some responsibility for the poor signal-to-noise ratio, (as I said, I will try to do better) I also have the general hope that Making Light will be good place to have discussions, and I made the proposal in that spirit.

#234 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 03:25 PM:

::: David Harmon @ 232

It's the racial bias of such tools that concerns me, both the tendency of such tools to either directly ask the question, or to infer the question by something like Zip Code. The ability to such programs to be essentially reprogrammed by positive feedback is also an issue. If a racist cop knows that one particular zip code is full of Black people and produces less arrests, thus producing shorter sentences, will that racist cop increase his number of arrests in that particular Zip Code to ensure longer sentences?

I think before I'd feel comfortable using such a piece of software I'd want two things. First, a prison system geared much more toward rehabilitation, and second, to have such programs published under an Open Source license and thus open to auditing by any organization.

#235 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 03:35 PM:

Alex R. #234: The tools involved are in fact being offered as part of prison reform. The fundamental problem here is that current conditions have produced a genuine correlation between being black and getting arrested/convicted. Anything that uncritically accepts that data as input, is thereby going to be biased against blacks. To produce just sentences, you also need to discount the bias created by differential arrest rates, court handling, and access to counsel, and so on.

#236 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 03:50 PM:

David Harmon @ 234

Anything that uncritically accepts that data as input, is thereby going to be biased against blacks.

I completely agree. That's why the programs need to be auditable.

The terrible thing is how may different ways prejudice against Blacks can be encoded. For example, a hidden database with names like Trayvon and Tanisha. or by Street names and Zip Codes. Or by census data/driver's license data. Or by a button press that's not advertised in the manual, but reported to probation officers by sales-people.

#237 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 04:13 PM:

Xopher, Jacque, and others:

Among those who know me personally, I am noted for the degree and, hm, shall I say *style* of my invective, but I incline rather to the Scalzi model than to the model based on sexual insult. Especially since so many of those insults could be reasonably applied to me, and I don't think I am a bad person.

In particular, I am inclined to take insults involving "cum-guzzling" personally, although I have not engaged in inter-species cum-guzzling.

And isn't "guzzling" kind of an ugly word, all by itself?

#238 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 04:23 PM:

Older @ 237

Use of the phrase was clearly a mistake on my part, and I'm sorry anyone was offended. We've already discussed it endlessly. Can we please drop the issue?

#239 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, ἀνεπίθετη ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2016, 04:58 PM:

Alex R:

For penance, read comment 47 and think about the word control.

Rubric: the disturbance this latest (of several) instances of you allowing your desire to be the center of the conversation to add noise to the signal of this thread will die down on its own and at its own pace. You don't get to police or dictate the rate at which those natural reactions to the disturbance you caused take place.

You can do two things to cause it to smooth down, both of which you have now done: talk about something else, and (better late than never) explicitly apologize.

Onward, as someone I know would say.

#240 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2016, 02:23 PM:

It's always possible that people would make deliberately racist choices when building an automated sentencing recommendation tool; but I don't think that's actually anywhere near the biggest risk. I think the big risk is the other one people have mentioned, using existing data to predict the future.

The problem is, what else can we defend using to predict the future? Any such tool should be data-based, right? Not based on some theory?

I doubt we have the collective or individual will to do it, but one could try to use only data from the new era; but of course even that will have carry-over from the old era inherently attached. Where people live, their educational levels, their language and dress, they're all racialized.

#241 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2016, 03:50 PM:

Nancy, Lee, lorax, etc.:

I have limited cycles and spoons to try to hash this all out, enough so that I'm not willing to commit to reading a whole additional book about the topic anytime soon. (Though I've heard good things about _The New Jim Crow_, and it's on my list of books I'd like to read one of these days.) Also (specifically to lorax): If I'm engaging with like ten people who disagree with me, it's probably better if you don't assume that failing to respond to your specific comment means anything more than that I didn't have the cycles to respond to everything.

In my discussion with abi earlier, she suggested being clear about where I was coming from in these discussions, so I didn't leave people assuming stuff I don't even believe. So here, let me be clear about a couple things:

a. What am I claiming, specifically?

From everything I've seen so far, I am convinced that the black crime rate is quite a bit higher than the white crime rate. If I had to put probabilities to this, I'd assign a probability above 95% to the claim that the true black crime rate is higher than the true white crime rate.

b. What does that imply?

If this is true, it provides some explanation for the higher arrest rate among blacks relative to whites. If it is not true, then the higher arrest rate among blacks relative to whites represents a major problem we need to address right now, because blacks are, indeed, arrested at many times the rate of whites.

c. What does this NOT imply?

The relative black and white crime rates will never justify police misconduct toward blacks. You ought not to get hassled, arrested, shot, beaten up, etc., because you look like a lot of people who've done bad things.

When I say it like that, it seems kind-of obvious, and yet, there's a thread of rhetoric that uses that idea--saying that BLM shouldn't complain about police killing unarmed blacks because criminals kill even more unarmed blacks. That's completely wrong. We'd like both the police and the freelance criminals to refrain from killing blacks (and everyone else), and we should be working toward that.

d. What about racism in policing?

I agree that there's some racism in policing, prosecutions, sentencing, etc. I don't know how big the impact is. I can think of ways to try to figure that out, but I doubt I will have the cycles to do a good job investigating this stuff.

The reason I don't believe the black and white crime rates are the same is because I don't see any way for the impact of racism in policing to be sufficient to account for the huge differences in crime rates in the official statistics. Also, there are a whole bunch of secondary bits of evidence, all of which point in the direction of a substantially higher black crime rate than white crime rate. I'll address that in a separate comment.

#242 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2016, 03:57 PM:

The reason I don't believe the black and white crime rates are the same is because I don't see any way for the impact of racism in policing to be sufficient to account for the huge differences in crime rates in the official statistics.

When blacks are arrested more often, charged with more and worse counts, convicted more often, and sentenced more heavily, it's going to have a huge effect.

#243 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2016, 05:13 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 240

As I see it there are multiple sentencing products out there, each written with a different philosophy and a different agenda. It doesn't matter whether the racism is deliberately baked in or whether it happens by some accident of data-gathering or application. If Product X sentences a Black person differently than a white person with similar issues and background, I don't care how the racism got into the program. I just want the racism removed.

And the best bet we have for doing that is in opening up the code and data-structures so that any programmer can check them out and report back on any flaws they find. (Sorry to keep pounding on the Open Source solution, because that's not really what this discussion is about, but what other options do we have?)

#244 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2016, 05:18 PM:

Alex R:

The only thing I'm absolutely sure of w.r.t. the issue of sentencing/parole decision by algorithm is that the whole algorithm and all data it is based on must be made public.

#245 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 12:09 PM:

Here's a bit of data about one kind of crime rate (in reference to searches done when pulling cars over for defective equipment):

He says the most recent research shows minorities are more than twice as likely to be searched as whites. But those searches aren't as effective.

"Illegal contraband is found as a result of searching white drivers significantly more than black or Hispanic drivers," Barone says.

From this article: To Reduce Bias, Some Police Departments Are Rethinking Traffic Stops.

#246 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 12:35 PM:

Naomi Parkhurst @ 245

Sorry, but your link is no good. I think you want this one instead:

Remember that you can try your link during the preview process. Maybe a moderator can fix the link and erase this post?

#247 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 12:42 PM:

Rather than delete Alex R's helpful message, let me expand on it. Remember to start your links with <"http://www....

Without that, the blogging software takes it as a relative link and tries to find it somewhere on And though the domain is large and contains multitudes, it isn't that large.

There's a reminder of the syntax in the HTML Tags section above the commentary box.

Testing is also good; if there is a problem, this is usually it.

#248 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 12:49 PM:

Sigh. I am out of practice with HTML. I will try to remember to click my links in the preview. Thanks for the helpful reminders!

#249 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 01:00 PM:

albatross @ 241

I'd guess that the biggest and best predictor of a crime rate is poverty, particularly multi-generational poverty. The best predictor of not committing crimes is probably multi-generational non-poverty. And that's before you get into issues like how much lead can be found in the worst areas of town versus the best areas of town, or prejudice in education levels (probably also a good predictor of crime) or any of the other injustices to which Black people are routinely subject, including different levels of policing.

This is a very complicated problem with an enormous number of variables, most of them weighted against Black people. Your attempt to simplify this into "Black people commit more crime" without asking "why" is making the conversation very, very difficult.

#250 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 01:08 PM:

Things are getting interesting in North Miami. While the investigation into the shooting of Charles Kinsey is continuing, and the officer who shot him remains on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, his commander has been suspended without pay for falsifying the report regarding the shooting.

See NBC Miami for the story.

It sounds like while they were trying to figure out how the shooting happened, they found the bogus report, and are slapping that down hard. I can only regard that as a good thing and hopefully a warning to others.

#251 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 01:49 PM:

Naomi, #248: If your link shows up blue in the preview panel, it's fine. If it shows up as a sort of yellowish-grey, that's a visual indicator that your HTML has a problem. If you copy your link directly from the address bar on the source page, all you have to do is type <A=", paste in the link, then end with "/A>.

#252 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 01:53 PM:

the URL part has to end with ">, then the /a in brackets goes after the text bit.

#253 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 02:10 PM:

P J Evans @ 252

I would add one thing to your good advice. Once you're in preview mode, right-click the link and choose "Open in New Window" or "Open in New Tab." A link can be correct HTML but still go to the wrong place.

As always, its a good idea to compose offline so you can't loose your writing due to browser failure.

#254 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 03:23 PM:

Alex R:

This is an explicit disagreement on a question of fact. There are two possibilities:

a. Blacks have a higher crime rate than whites.

b. Blacks do not have a higher crime rate than whites.

We need to know this, among other things, to work out whether the higher arrest rate among blacks represent discrimination in policing, or simply arresting the people committing the crimes.

From the evidence I've seen, I think blacks have a substantially higher crime rate than whites. I don't know why.

You listed a lot of possible factors, and all those are possibilities. Lead exposure in childhood in particular is something we know can have a whole lot of nasty effects, including behavior problems and cognitive problems, and I've read the claim that blacks have higher exposure to lead than whites overall, and poor people have higher exposure than wealthier people. Similarly, poverty is associated with crime, and blacks average quite a bit poorer than whites--that might be another explanation. But really, that's a whole interesting research question.

#255 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 03:36 PM:

If we're looking at relevant factors, I would want to dig into the word "crime". The criminality of an act not an inherent thing, but rather the product of societal choice. What do we criminalize and what not? Are we doing that fairly?

Also, how many of the crimes that are committed don't end up in the statistics? Is that proportion the same in all communities? All we can really talk about is the reported crime rate.

</child-of-lawyer mode>

#256 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 04:08 PM:

abi @ 225

Agreed. Note my post at 226.

BTW, I contacted Maggie McNeill on the subject of race as the driver of anti-prostitution laws, and she replied by pointing me at a piece of her own historical writing on the subject. (PDF Warning.) The TL:DR is that anti-prostitution laws grew to a large extent out of prejudice against the Chinese and Victorian ideas about female sexuality, but have in subsequent years been deployed much more frequently against Blacks and Hispanics.

#257 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 04:10 PM:

"There was the time I was stopped late at night at an underpass on an empty road in New Jersey for having changed lanes without signaling. (The officer) went on to say that the 'real reason' why he stopped me was because my car’s license plates were much newer and shinier than the 17-year old Ford that I was driving. The officer was just making sure that neither the car nor the plates were stolen." - Neil de Grasse Tyson

#258 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 04:57 PM:

re 254: The big issue with measuring criminality is that anything where it's detected by police is tainted. The link in 245 shows an example: traffic stops find more contraband for whites than blacks, but blacks get stopped more. Homicides are to some degree an exception because you don't need people around to kill each other and because the fact of a dead body is pretty incontrovertible, one way or the other. But the kind of police problems being talked about here have nothing to do with that.

Really, the anecdotes are, for a change, better data. And if there weren't a racial bias, that would mean that the police are mistreating some class of whites too. The police shouldn't be trolling traffic for excuses to conduct searches. Period.

#259 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 05:01 PM:

re 258: Meant to say "people don't need police around to kill each other." duh.

#260 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 05:20 PM:

So, I've said what I believe. Why do I believe it?

This has murder statistics for 2014.

Looking at murders lets us sidestep an obvious source of bias, where the prosecutor decides to charge a black guy for some marginal offense (like pot smoking) that he wouldn't charge a white guy for. Nobody thinks murder is marginal. Also, murder gets more consistently reported than other crimes.

First, let me give an approximate summary of the data, then I'll look at the specific numbers:

a. About 1/8 (12.5%) of the population is black[1].

b. About 1/3 of all the murders have an unknown race of the murderer[2].

c. About 1/3 (a little more) of the murderers are believed to be black.

d. About 1/3 (a little less) are believed to be white.

e. Other races (Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian) are a negligible part of the total. (Asians make up a reasonable fraction of the population, but appear to commit very few murders.)

In the murders where we know what race the justice system *thinks* the murderer was, more than half were blacks.

The specific numbers were:

whites: 4367
blacks: 5173
other: 225
??????: 4132

The basic problem we have here is that these numbers are really hard to square with living in a world where the black and white murder rates are equal.

Now, let's consider only the cases where the race is known, and the claimed murderer is either black or white (We can reconsider that later.) That's 9540 murders. Of those, 5173/9540 = 54% claim that the murderer was black. For now, I'm going to assume that the cases where the race is unknown don't radically change the picture. (That would happen if, for example, almost all the unknown race cases were whites.) I'll come back to this at the end of the post.

Let's imagine we live in a world where blacks and whites commit murder at the same rate. In that world, the actual fraction of murders committed by blacks would be 12.5%, or 1193 murders where we know the race of the murderer. In that world, there are 3981 murders (42% of all the murders where we think we know the race of the murders), where we would have, not only the wrong guy, but a guy of the wrong race.

Now, how likely are we to see the police get the wrong guy? I don't know for sure, and in fact, this seems extremely hard to actually determine with certainty. 42% seems extremely high to me. However, if the police simply get the wrong guy, that's not enough to give us the statistics we see, if blacks and whites have equal rates of committing murders. We need the police to get a guy of the wrong race. Otherwise, the statistics can't come out like they do.

Let's restate that: Assuming the unknown-race cases are unbiased, if you believe blacks and whites commit murders at the same rate, then you have to believe that the authorities are getting the wrong guy (and the wrong race) more than 2/5 (42%) of the time. And all these errors must be in the same direction--always blaming a black guy when the murderer was white. If that's not true, then there's no way for the murder rates between blacks and whites to be equal.

Now, how likely are the police to get the wrong race?

a. There could be data recording errors, but I don't see how these could change our results.

b. We know from The Innocence Project that a large number of wrongful convictions were from mistaken eyewitness identification, and a large fraction of those were from witnesses not being able to tell one black guy from another. That's horrifying, but it doesn't seem to lead to getting a black suspect when the murderer was white.

c. Between 1980-2008, blacks were six times more likely than whites to be murdered, and blacks were nearly eight times more likely than whites to be identified as the murderer. (From this summary of murder statistics from 1980-2008.) And according to those same statistics (which may be biased, remember), murder is overwhelmingly intraracial (blacks killing blacks, whites killing whites) and done by people known to the victim. If we believe that murder is indeed overwhelmingly intraracial, then we should see a disproportionate number of blacks being murder victims. And of course, that's exactly what we see.

From 2014, the numbers where the race of the victim was recorded were 6097 black victims, and 5397 white victims. If we look only at black and white victims and compute the percentages, they're quite close to the murderer numbers: about 53% of the murder victims were blacks, and about 47% white.

If we lived in a world where blacks and whites committed murder at the same rate, murder could not possibly be overwhelmingly intraracial--the numbers don't work out. Instead, that world would involve thousands of white murderers killing black victims, and then getting some random black guy blamed for it. This does not look very much like the world we live in, though I can't prove it's not happening

d. Finally, there's the fact of widespread residential segregation. Blacks and whites are still pretty segregated, and the highest-crime neighborhoods where murder is the most likely to happen usually have a majority of black residents. If the police are going to get the wrong guy, they're almost certainly going to get someone who was in the house or store or at least neighborhood at the time.

All of this says to me that the police are very unlikely to be getting the wrong race in more than 2/5 of the murder cases where they think they know whodunnit.

Now, in order to reason about all this, I have assumed that the murderers of unknown race are not overwhelmingly white. One quick thing we can do: suppose every single unknown-race murderer was actually white. What would that do to our numbers?

whites + unknown = 8499 murders = 62%
blacks = 5173 murders = 38%

So even if every single murderer who got away or whose race wasn't identified was white, blacks would still have a rate of murder three times their fraction of the population.

Now, of course there's no reason to think the unknown-race murderers are skewed this way. Poorer places probably have less effective police forces, and thus are less likely to catch murderers.

That's a giant wall-o-text. And this deserves a paper or something, but I've already spent enormously more time than I had for it here. I should point out that this is one thread of evidence, but there are many others. For example, you could imagine looking for a set of serious crimes in which there was surveillance video showing the crime, and identifying the race of the criminals. That would have its own biases, but it would completely bypass the justice system's biases. Or, you could look at the criminal victimization survey, in which the FBI calls a bunch of people up and asks them if they've been victims of crimes, and if so, asks them for details. I believe that survey identifies race of criminal, and again, it's got biases, but they should be *different* from the biases of the justice system. We could also look at the distribution of murders or other serious crimes in neighborhoods, vs the racial mix of those neighborhoods. (Murders are best, because they get reported when other crimes might not be.) And so on.

The TL;DR version:

a. Both recent and historical murder statistics show blacks with an enormously higher murder rate than whites. In both the 2014 and the historical data it's nearly eight times higher.

b. Given these statistics, if we believe that the black and white murder rates are equal, we must also believe several things:

(i) The authorities are getting the wrong person, and in fact a person of the wrong race, in more than 2/5 of the murder cases where they identify the murderer's race.

(ii) They authorities are making these errors despite widespread residential segregation, surveillance videos, eyewitnesses who hopefully at least get the race of the murderer right, and many other factors that should make getting the wrong race for the murderer even less common than getting the wrong guy.

(iii) Most murder is committed by whites, with black victims, and then some kind of frame-up job that puts blacks in prison for it.

If you don't believe those things, there doesn't seem to be any way for the murder rate between blacks and whites to be equal.

c. Many murders are not solved, or the race of the murderer isn't reported. However, even if every single murder where the murderer's race isn't identified were committed by a white murderer, this would not account for the difference between black and white murder statistics. (It wouldn't even come close.)

[1] The FBI crime statistics don't treat Hispanics as separate from blacks and whites. As I understand it, this means most Hispanics get rolled into the white category, but not all.

[2] Most of the time, this means they don't know who committed the murder. A third or more of murders are never closed, and murder is the crime that's most likely to be closed--that is, where either someone pleads guilty, someone is convicted, or the apparent murderer dies before going to trial. However, sometimes it means the police department reporting the murder to the FBI didn't report the race.

#261 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 05:48 PM:

Albatross @260:

A couple factors driving the higher murder rate might be:

1. The population in poor black neighborhoods don't trust the police, and avoid contact with them. This makes policing those neighborhoods much more difficult, which means people inclined to commit murder have less likelihood to fear someone turning them in.

2. If you don't trust the police, and someone does something horrible to you, what can you do in response? This would include both self-defense (which might get mis-classified as murder if the police don't find out the whole story because no one will talk to them, or just because they assume certain groups of people are automatically criminals), and revenge.

My suspicion is that there isn't a single magic factor causing all this; it's a tangled web of institutional racism, poor training, macho culture, militarization, feedback effects, and path dependence (if I waved my magic wand and ended all racism tomorrow, many black people would still be poor, poorly educated, and facing tough circumstances for many years to come).

So far, the most feasible suggestion for improvement I've seen is to turn over some current police tasks to unarmed personnel, maybe from a different organization with different training. Maybe if people in poor neighborhoods learn to trust the traffic wardens, or the mental-health response teams, or the gang intervention teams, maybe that'll eventually make policing those neighborhoods more effective (especially if at the same time we work on reducing the police officers' fear of the people they're supposed to be protecting).

Do you have any suggestions?

#262 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 05:56 PM:


I like most of the proposals of Project Zero, which I linked to above.

Also, if I were king, I'd take about 10% of the defense budget and spend it on lead remediation.

#263 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 06:28 PM:

Which definition of "murder" are you using is also a factor. How many whites get a crime downgraded to "manslaughter" or something even less obvious? How frequently are lesser pleas offered to defendants of different colors?

If there's racism involved, it probably is present in the definitions being used. So, can we clarify the definitions? I have seen this be of serious importance relating to other government definitions which probably don't have racism involved, but do have corporations who want specific results. I will not go into the basis of what makes a strong definition of a datum here again unless someone specifically asks.

#264 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 07:17 PM:

Albatross: Are you referring to Campaign Zero? It looks interesting; I need to read more about it. My only quibble with what I've read so far is that in solution #10, "Contracts", they seem to be under the unfortunate impression that lie-detector tests actually have value in determining the truth.

#265 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 09:41 PM:

P J Evans, #252: *facepalm* Yes. Thank you for correcting my brain-fart.

Serge, #257: Yeah... as if old cars never got new plates with different numbers on them, even when owned by the same person. (Quoth the person who gets really sick and tired of having to memorize a new license plate every 5 years or so.)

albatross, #260: And your support for generalizing out from murder to every other kind of crime is...? Because if you had to go to one specific crime in order to (at least partly) filter out the racial-bias factors, that still doesn't say anything at all, statistically, about crimes where those bias factors are operating in full force.

You're claiming that since you've been able to demonstrate that blacks commit more murders than whites do, it is therefore appropriate to assume that blacks commit more of every kind of crime than whites do, and I don't follow how you're getting from Point A to Point B.

#266 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2016, 11:54 PM:

California used to issue new plates every ten or so years, back when all the registrations expired at the same time. My parents had consecutive numbers on the cars, for a while, because they were issued both at once (1959 or 1960, IIRC, and the plates were KZX622 and KZX623; the truck got UNY314, in 1961 or 1962.)

#267 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 12:29 AM:

albatross, I wonder whether you're up against an error I've made as a libertarian-- it's very easy to do analysis based on the premise that if the government follows some law it's made, there will be bad results. This may well be sound, but it can build a mental habit of neglecting the possibility of wide-spread law-breaking by the government.

#268 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 02:56 AM:

abatross@254: The dichotomy you pose is tautologically true. But, like most tautologies, completely useless / meaningless.

Your arguments are based on statistical conviction / plea rates. Systemic bias comes into play before that. What streets get swept, who gets stopped, who gets arrested, who gets charged, what they get charged with, what they plead out to, and the conviction rates, are all affected by cultural / systemic racism. So the statistics simply don't measure anything strongly meaningful at least for that part of the argument.

#269 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 04:03 AM:

Here in England there are so many differences.

But, anecdotal evidence it may be, a local magistrate, quite a long while back, retired and then wrote several non-specific articles for the local newspaper. Nothing about any specific case, but maybe a context for the reports the newspaper printed.

The law in some areas was changing, and I suspect she was already out of date.

But I got the definite impression that she was too inclined to believe the Police, and there were some areas of law in England where a case could pass through the courts without anybody but the Police and a magistrate seeing them. I heard, from a ex-friend who was still a Police Officer at the time, that the lady was known as one of a magistrates you preferred to go to to get a search warrant. (I haven't met the guy in some 15 years, and I heard one or two dubious things since about him.)

That has changed in England, but it's a situation where racism by Police Officers could easily escape notice, and final conviction rates could easily suggest a false relative crime rate.

#270 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 11:45 AM:

albatross: And I'm still not clear on why you're posting comments on relative crime rates on a thread about police shooting unarmed black people.

I'd really love it if you'd connect those dots for me...? (And please note, this is the second time I've asked a question like this.)

#271 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 01:47 PM:

Jacque 270:

I explained why I think the question is relevant in posts #241 and #254, above.

Lee 265:

On the same site as the documents I linked to, there is information for several other crimes. I haven't tried to dig into that information much, but I'd be interested if someone wants to look at it and comment on what they find.

Tom 263:

I think the definitions are in the big report on homicide in the US I linked to. I think it's all intentional murders and nonnegligent manslaughter--that is, I think killing someone in a bar fight would be counted as a murder (even if you didn't specifically mean to kill him), but killing someone by running him over while you're drunk might not be. But I could be misunderstanding something--this is definitely not my field.

#272 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 04:14 PM:

albatross #271: And you've ignored multiple challenges to your approach, notably abi #255. And #271 "I can't be bothered to look up their definitions for murders, and other crimes are linked somewhere" is not a good response to the basic challenge you're getting here: Namely, the crime rates are not a good place to start, and especially not with your idea at #254 that (paraphrasing) "if we can prove that blacks have a higher crime rate, that absolves the police of bias". Because as several folks have noted, the crimes on record are themselves subject to police bias in a variety of ways.

Including murder -- perhaps especially murder, because once there's a body on the ground, the cops have strong incentive to arrest and prosecute somebody. If that somebody's black, they and the courts don't have nearly as much incentive to make distinctions among accident, self-defense, provocation, manslaughter, and murder. Especially as a black person is much less likely to have competent representation who can push such issues, or to be able to plea-bargain to a lesser charge.

#273 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 05:57 PM:

Also, the more fundamental problem is this: there comes a point at which police stops, whether or not they result in arrests, constitute harassment. It's a metaprinciple of American law, vis-a-vis rights, that the government needs a real reason to pry into your business or otherwise interfere with what you're doing. If traffic stops done as a pretext for searches aren't per se a 4th amendment transgression, they violate its spirit. This is why I keep coming back to this being a two issue matter. The racism is one thing, and a very big one thing, but the other is that what the police are doing shouldn't be done to anyone. If you look at the link I posted back in 170, most of the recommendations have to do with police procedure and temperament in general. The crime stats don't deal with this.

#274 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 06:45 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 268

"Round up the usual suspects."

#275 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2016, 09:27 PM:

C. Wingate #273: The racism is one thing, and a very big one thing, but the other is that what the police are doing shouldn't be done to anyone.

Those aren't "one thing and the other", they are one thing. The racism is why the police in general don't get called on ignoring the civil rights of black people, and why the bad apples can regularly do things to black folks that "shouldn't be done to anyone".

#276 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2016, 12:12 PM:

A couple of years ago, there was a similar kind of incident in Toronto: a black teenager with a knife, alone on a streetcar after all other people were removed, was shot and killed by a police officer who continued to shoot after the kid was lying on the floor. The officer was just convicted of attempted murder, and sentenced to 6 years in prison.

The "threat level" posed by a kid with a switchblade alone in a streetcar seems to me to be exaggerated, and the sentence still seems light. But it's a start.

#277 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2016, 11:55 PM:

One of my frustrations with this whole discussion of sentencing recommendation software and its fairness or unfairness is that at least one of the systems that's been in the news lately wasn't even built to be sentencing software - it was built to be used for parole evaluations, predicting if this was a good time to let somebody out of prison. That's a much much different problem, even if the software and its input data sets were unbiased, which they're not.

But also, one of the things we've seen in places like Ferguson is that black people really do commit arrestable crimes more often, like not paying multi-thousand-dollar fines they can't afford, which are often for not paying multi-hundred-dollar fines they can't afford for simple traffic offenses, in a town where the black people are noticeably poorer and where the government's big funding source is fines. The white people who commit traffic offenses can usually pay the initial fine, so they don't get hit with the bigger fine, don't get arrest warrants out for them, and don't get felony resisting-arrest charges for being arrested while black.
That's not even counting things like the Reagan-era drug sentencing, which made sentences for crack much much higher than for rich-white-folks flavors of cocaine, or marijuana and opiates being criminalized because they were mostly used by Mexicans and Chinese (or later, under Nixon, by blacks and hippies.)

#278 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2016, 01:25 AM:

Another voter suppression law down.

Fair warning: put down your drink and get the cat off your lap before clicking the link! The judge's decision was a RIGHTEOUS smackdown, and someone found the perfect image to go with it.

#279 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2016, 02:08 AM:

David #272:

I am in a conversation or argument with like 20 people. There's simply no way I can respond with much depth to all or even most of them. That's one reason I linked to my source data.

Also, a blog comment isn't the same thing as a research paper. Do you want the precise definition of murder used in the statistics? Do you want the numbers for other crimes? Well, Google's your friend. If I were writing an academic paper, I'd feel obliged to chase all that information down and report it. For a blog comment, not really.

This is especially true when, as I suspect is the case here, doing ten times as much digging into statistics and numbers isn't going to convince anyone who's already decided they don't accept the approach I'm using. If your objection is that there is no possible way to infer anything at all about crime rates from official crime statistics given the existence of racial bias, well, I think you're badly wrong, but I'm not clear on how providing still more official crime statistics is going to change anything.

#280 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2016, 02:34 AM:

Some reference material, if anyone wants to look further:

Arrest data from 2014 for a whole bunch of crimes. Other than offenses involving alcohol, blacks have higher arrest rates than their 13% of the population for all of them, but murder and robbery are the two with the highest fraction of blacks arrested.

There are at least three things to keep in mind when looking at these numbers:

a. The clearance rate (basically when the police think they know whodunnit, and either they arrest and charge him with the crime, or he's already dead, or he's hiding out in another country) is surprisingly low. More than a third of murders are never cleared, and it's much worse for other crimes. This table shows clearance rates for a bunch of different crimes.

b. A lot of crimes don't get reported to the police in the first place, especially rape and low-value property crimes. So the statistics we have about them are skewed toward the subset of victims and cases where someone bothered to file a police report.

c. All this data is about when the police arrest someone (and maybe charge them with a crime). It's not about convicting them or them pleading guilty. (That's true for the murder data as well.)

In general, murder should be giving us the most reliable statistics, whereas rape and petty theft arrest statistics will both give us a less reliable indication of what's actually going on.

Also, this page has the formal definition of murder used. They separate out intentional murder or what I think is usually called voluntary manslaughter (like killing someone in a bar fight) from accidental killing, negligent homicide (like drunk-driving and killing someone in a crash) and killing someone in self defense (justifiable homicide--something like 300 cases a year).

There's probably some opportunity for bias in the decision about whether to charge someone with negligent or non-neglignt homicide, but it seems to me (this is definitely not my field) like that would only be true for a small subset of cases.

#281 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2016, 02:52 AM:

This is a politifact article digging a bit into the arrest and incarceration statistics, and quoting several criminologists.

This is a fact-check of some weird Trump tweet, but also draws on the same data I'm linking to, and quotes another criminology professor.

My point in linking to these: I'm not a criminologist--this isn't remotely my field. These two articles quoted people who are criminologists, drawing on (I think) the same data I linked to. The way they discussed this data looked like they thought it was pretty accurate, and could be used to infer actual risks of being a crime victim.

#282 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2016, 12:26 PM:

@ albatross/albatross's detractors

I think the issue here is an exceedingly difficult one to study for a variety of reasons.

1.) Environmental racism. Blacks are disproportionately affected by lead pollution and other issues having to do with toxic chemistry. Lead pollution damages the ability of the brain to gain a mature perspective on violence (and damages the brain in multiple other ways as well.)

2.) Nutrition is another factor here. I suspect that many of the Black people living in bad neighborhoods experience poor nutrition, leading to various adverse outcomes, including poor brain growth.

3.) Educational prejudice. One of the ugliest things to experience in Los Angeles is the main high school in Watts, which is still named for one of the premier white proponents of Eugenics. 'Nuf said on that subject. (David Starr Jordan HS in case anyone cares.)

4.) Prejudice by police leading to higher arrest rates. This affects the ability of many Black people to get decent jobs down the line, increasing the cycle of poverty. (This might or might not relate to albatross's claims of higher arrest rates by Blacks.)

5.) Cumulative effect of poverty and prejudice over multiple generations. The manner in which Black people experience this is probably difficult to quantify, particularly for a white person such as myself, but it must be extremely corrosive.

As I see it there are two ways to study the issue. The first is to find a group of Black families who have not lived in poverty for multiple generations and are part of the same kind of educationally and socially supportive community as middle-class whites, then compare them to similar middle-class whites and somehow adjust appropriately for the prejudice that even middle-class blacks experience.

The other way would be to study the issue with some adjustments for poverty and class. Unfortunately, Blackness aligns very nicely with poverty, so for studies to be valid they must compare the Blacks whose arrest rates are being studied with whites of a similar social and financial group, including the experience of environmental factors such as lead... I would say that any study that does not at least match for poverty rates has been done with malicious intent.

In short, getting this stuff right is really hard. If any study you're referencing doesn't deal with at least some of the issues I've referenced above, it's probably a very poor study, though not necessarily malicious.

#283 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2016, 01:50 PM:

Albatross #281: Looking at your second link, I was struck by:

Robert Brame, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, echoed Fridell’s assessment. / "The statistical fact is that you’re more likely to be a victim of a white perpetrator than a black one just because there are so many more whites in the population," Brame said.

And this is an example of how statistics can be used to mislead -- the particular point appears harmless in isolation, but it exemplifies statisically "ignoring the elephant in the room". Given that murders and likely many other crimes are overwhelmingly within race, if the reader Brame speaks to is more likely to be victimized by a white -- it's not just because there are more whites, but also because the reader is more likely to be white.

#284 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2016, 02:03 AM:

Lee @278: You forgot to say, "and warn the guinea pigs about abrupt, loud noises coming from the human." :-)

#285 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2016, 02:07 AM:

albatross @279: I am in a conversation or argument with like 20 people. There's simply no way I can respond with much depth to all or even most of them.

Maybe cut down on the number of arguments so you can respond more meaningfully to the ones you do engage in...? Just a thought. 'Cause I'm not getting "engaged" from what I'm seeing here, and it's not helping your case.

(Which, near as I can figure out, boils down to, "The unarmed Black people who are getting shot by the police probably deserved it, because reasons.")

#286 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2016, 04:38 PM:


How on Earth did you get that from what I wrote here? Or anywhere else, for that matter?

In #241, I said:

The relative black and white crime rates will never justify police misconduct toward blacks. You ought not to get hassled, arrested, shot, beaten up, etc., because you look like a lot of people who've done bad things.

#288 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2016, 09:14 PM:

albatross: Yes, I did miss that. Thank you for pointing it out.

#289 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2016, 10:39 AM:

I'm coming to this a bit late, though I've read every comment so far and made a brief post at #181. I just wanted to wait for things to get a bit less tense before I stuck my toe in. Looking at what I wrote below before posting it, it's short on answers and long on discussion. Digging into the minutae is a shiny trap for my engineer brain, but my propensity to come up with easy technological changes and/or assume that "if the rules are set up even-handed, then things are/will be fine" is itself part of the problem, so I'm pushing that aside for now.

This is a tough topic, and I see people hurting all around and trying very hard to process the issue with the information they have and the processes they have, etc. There's friction - always is - between the different styles. Making Light, though, is a good place for it - there's a generally good community balance on support and caring and asking for citations and further elucidations of meaning, etc. At least from the semi-outside here (I'm not a frequent commentator) most things seem to go well. This one's been a bit rougher, but I can see it cooling off and brightening up.

So I went and read the article linked by the OP (again? I don't recall). It's gut-wrenching, as so many of these stories are. As many of you know - as I've shared in other similar threads - I grew up in the South. Heck, one of my first posts here was something offhand about The War of the Northern Aggression. I got some unexpected pushback. I went and read some. And found out I'd been systematically led astray by my education. I'd say "lied to" but I don't believe the individual educators I interacted with were lying - they had flawed materials and a deeply inculturated belief in that way of interpreting the history of slavery and the Confederacy and later "race" relations in the USA. (I put "race" in quotes because it's a fraught term, but I don't have a better one at hand.)

Beyond the occasional article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, linked items by him and others on Twitter, I haven't dug into it much. I've learned about redlining, about "white flight" and how little new subdivisions got created with anti-POC rules and regulations and when those rules were successfully challenged they moved again and made another one with similar rules, etc. Piece by piece, a rearguard action to try and keep a place away from "Them". All of which systematically tilted the playing field against POC and left behind structures to ensure the field stays tilted even without concious intervention to do so. It's all there, it's disturbing - as it should be - and very unsettling. I have a hell of a time finding any way to say that any of it is my fault, that I need to be the one who pays for it, for fixing it, etc. I have a hell of a time squaring my usual police interactions with stories of "Driving While Black" (of which I've heard a few first hand), let alone these horrific high-profile stories that are making the news these days and driving the Black Lives Matter groups.

The least I can do is to take people at their word - that these things happen to them, on a daily basis. To try and counter the reflexive bias I find in my own head, to examine the sources of that bias, to try and correct for it. To try and see many different viewpoints on the issue and try and understand where they come from and what sustains them. It is easy to demonize those who see differently - it is harder to understand that we are all of us human, and that the system we are surrounded by has a profound effect on all of us, in different but no less deep ways. That our brains are honed by evolution to generalize from insufficient data (anecdotes, news clips, superficial characteristics) to develop quick heuristics (stereotypes, biases) that make it easier for us to deal with the flood of information we recieve every day in a manner that generally produces a better outcome for ourselves and our kith and kin (however we define it), makes it harder.

As for solving the problem (or, rather, constellation of problems I'm way over-simplifying down into a single word "problem")... I see something very expensive and at least a generation or two in duration, with no good non-expensive and non-long-term way to fix it, but that needs to be fixed anyway. From one angle, it's not that far off in scale from climate change, at least in the scope of institutions, businesses, cost, and people that must be changed, disrupted, spent, and influenced. But it still needs to be done. The Black Lives Matter group and protests are a needfully disruptive and uncomfortable way of keeping attention on the issue. I just hope more change happens in the direction of reducing the problem, rather than repressive crackdown. At a minimum, getting enough attention on these worst-case outcomes can up the number of anecdotes used unconciously by individiuals to create heuristics to work on, can start to shift the percieved middle ground in a "fairer" direction. Then we get enough people in positions of power who see the problem and want to fix it. Then they get enough power and clout to start making changes. All the while, we need to keep the pressure on, else the entrenched interests that benefit from the status quo quash the changes.

Me, I can vote. I can call out bigoted jokes when I hear them. If it comes up in conversation I can try to influence opinions - to a point. I'm not yet sure I can put a bumper sticker on my car other than the collection of "I Voted" ones, let alone a yard sign. There was a "TrumpShop" popup shop just down the hill from me last month, and there are more Republican balloons being carried around at the county fair than any other political type. The most prominent non-advertizing billboard in town has that old saw "Mr President and Congress: Lead, don't divide!" that I have a hard time interpreting as anything other than dog-whistles I don't quite get but appear to generally suggest they should work together all in one direction - and it isn't the direction our current President would go. There's at least one mailbox with a "Hillary for Prison!" sign on it along my drive home. It's rather strongly assumed that one is a churchgoing Christian unless one says otherwise, too - and most of the available "public" spaces to have meetings and such are in Christian churches. So it's generally a safe neighborhood/down for people that look like me. And I can see some of the mechanisms for keeping people in line - and they are deniable, legal, and disturbing.

#290 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2016, 11:57 AM:

Federal report on just how bad policing is in Baltimore

Answer: bizarrely bad. One guy stopped 30 times in a year? Public strip searches of people who haven't even been arrested???

#291 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2016, 11:08 AM:

This is an article on one case of something apparently pretty common in the US: Local governments running the criminal justice system as a revenue source. This perverts the hell out of the operation of the system, and makes the police into the enemy of the poor. (If you were looking for ways to create hostile interactions between the police and the community, especially the poor members of the community who can't just come up with a few hundred dollars to pay off a fine, this would be how you'd do it.)

There are plenty of bad things going on in the justice system (police abuse, brutal prisons). But running your police and courts for a profit is worse in one really important way: it creates big incentives for abuse. It's not just that the other cops on the force won't turn you in if you knock some kid's teeth out for mouthiness, it's that your city can cover its revenue shortfall by changing its policing practices. And then nearby cities see how you're doing that, and they can hire away some of your people and start doing the same thing. And the more you do, the better your payoff. Until you become so abusive that people move too far away for you to extract money from them, you can scale up your fines and enforcement and keep raking the money in.

I think *most* local governments do some of this--speed cameras are sold to city governments as a revenue source, lots of cities run parking enforcement as a revenue source, speed traps are commonplace all across the country. And the techniques that make sense for efficiently extracting money from people like me[1]--like tacking a bunch of extra charges on each fine and getting a reputation for actually tossing people in jail if they don't pay their fines--also tend to grind poor people up in the gears. And there are outliers that run pretty blatant highway robbery operations to extract money. They get away with it, and the ones that steal the most money are most successful, and they expand their operations and staffs and encourage immitators.

I don't have strong evidence for this, but I suspect that the actual impact of policing for a profit in all its forms is many times more damaging than more general abusive policing practices like smacking people around for mouthing off. If you survive a beating, at least it's over afterwards. If you once fall into debt beyond your ability to pay on traffic fines in one of these fine-farming operations, you can spend years trying to pay it off, getting periodically re-arrested (from a warrant for your last failure to pay up), lose jobs because you're in jail, etc.

[1] To a first approximation, think of the set of people who could pay an unexpected $500 fine without having a personal financial crisis. You'd be annoyed and it would screw your budget up a bit, but you could pay it and you wouldn't be missing your next rent or electric payment as a result.

#292 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2016, 11:22 AM:

Related to policing for a profit in all its forms, there is a pool of people in the US right now (I don't know how big, and they're inherently hard to measure) who are in impossible-to-repay, impossible-to-get-out-of debts. Child support judgments, fines/fees from the justice system[1], back taxes, even student loans.

Should they owe that money, morally? Probably so in many cases--surely if you have kids, you ought to support them. Can they? Often, no, they can't.

At the extreme end, you get some guy with a criminal record and a GED he earned in prison, with three child support judgments and a few thousand dollars in fines from some fine-farming operation. Every time he gets picked up by the cops, he gets re-arrested on a warrant from failure to pay/appear in court, spends some time in jail, and his debt goes up. Every time he gets an above-ground job (almost certainly at minimum wage), half his wages get taken.

That guy will never get out of debt. If he wants to eat, he'll find a way to work off the books. He will avoid the police even when he's the victim of a crime. He won't be able to use most social services, because if he does, he'll risk going to jail because he'll have to put his name and address down.

I don't know how many people fall into this category. And again, it's not like the people in this category are generally blameless. If you fathered three kids and ran out on them, and spent a year in jail for a DUI and a couple shorter stays for your drunken brawls, you've made the world a worse place with your behavior. And yet, we've built a system in which you have fallen into a black hole, and you'll never be able to climb out.

I'm not sure how we should fix this, either. I mean, ending every form of running your justice system for a profit is a no-brainer, and that would help some, but I don't know how much.

[1] It's apparently routine in some places for people who get sent to jail to be charged rent, which they owe when they get out.

#293 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2016, 11:49 AM:

I wonder how long it's going to be (and what it would take) before profit-seeking (beyond a comfortable living and educating offspring) is recognized by society and treated as a pathology, in the way that addictions are. (In fact, I wonder if it's not just another form of addiction?)

#294 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2016, 01:03 PM:

#291 ::: albatross

"more general abusive policing practices like smacking people around for mouthing off"

I'm reasonably certain that some of the assault by police isn't for mouthing off, it's just seeing a person and wanting to attack them.

I agree with your general point that using fines as a revenue stream is incredibly destructive, though the situation is complicated by the fact if the fines lead to imprisonment rather than payment, the fines *aren't* a revenue stream, they're a cost for the local budget.

However, the accounting is split up so that money spent on prisons is attractive to the prison-industrial complex, while the cost of imprisonment doesn't affect the institution imposing the fine.

This isn't just about prisons for profit-- even if a prison isn't run for profit, there's still money to be made building and staffing prisons.

Of course, this is just the government budget, it isn't even beginning to account for the damage done to people being fined and imprisoned.

I'm probably missing something-- my assumption is that I'm never cynical enough.

#293 ::: Jacque

I think you're overdoing it-- sometimes people do want money for large useful projects. I agree that just piling the stuff up (money is how you keep score) is a problem.

Also, the greedy government problem that albatross describes probably includes some individual skimming and unduly high salaries* but it isn't just about specific people wanting too much for themselves. Institutional addiction?

*I've heard that Michigan has unusually small municipal(?) governments, which means more people to pay, which means more likelihood of excessive fines.

#295 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2016, 04:49 PM:


Yeah, I think both of these are happening:

a. The local government uses fines as a revenue source.

b. Some local officials or bigwigs make money from locking more people up. (The example that comes to mind here is that awful case of the juvenile judge who was getting kickbacks the more kids he locked up in some private juvenile jail.)

As far as brutality and nastiness, I'm not aware of any reason to think that the private prisons are any worse than the public ones. But fewer opportunities for someone to be getting a kickback per inmate he sends to prison seems like a good thing overall.

Now, I don't know how common (b) is, or how we'd know. (a) is mostly happening right out in the open, where (b) involves a felony and so is probably happening a lot more often than we notice. And there are in-between cases--Radley Balko's reporting from the St Louis area after Michael Brown's shooting talked about a lot of towns hiring judges (lawyers from local law firms) for their once-a-week traffic courts, where the judges' continued employment depended on bringing in maximum revenue. It is very hard for me to imagine how this *wouldn't* lead to some cases where the judge ignored the law in order to keep the fines rolling in, and thus to keep his job.

I also wonder about the evolution of these fine-farming schemes. It's hard to imagine anyone starting out saying "let's fund our city government on fines, and design our procedures for maximum nastiness to encourage prompt payment!" So I assume these places mostly started doing something smaller-scale and less obviously evil, and then as fiscal constraints arose they couldn't meet any other acceptable way, found themselves hill-climbing toward more and more evil policies till they arrived at their current state.

#296 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 01:38 AM:

Thank you cajunfj40. My engineer brain tells me that undoing centuries of inequity is totally feasible, technically. It's only a problem politically. We just need to do it.

#297 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 02:59 AM:

albatross, #291: I don't have strong evidence for this, but I suspect that the actual impact of policing for a profit in all its forms is many times more damaging than more general abusive policing practices like smacking people around for mouthing off. If you survive a beating, at least it's over afterwards. If you once fall into debt beyond your ability to pay on traffic fines in one of these fine-farming operations, you can spend years trying to pay it off, getting periodically re-arrested (from a warrant for your last failure to pay up), lose jobs because you're in jail, etc.

On the one hand, you have a valid point. On the other... I don't believe it's kosher to stop at the description "smacking people around for mouthing off" when, increasingly often, it's KILLING people for mouthing off, or for not mouthing off, or for obeying the officer in every particular, or for being a black child outside his house, or just for having the temerity to be black and come to the attention of a police officer. To turn your statement back around, at least the people who fall into that kind of debt black-hole are STILL ALIVE to be able to recover if we can get a handle on the problem.

You've said a lot of other things here that I either agree with or want to think about, but that paragraph has been bugging me all day and I just now figured out why.

#298 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 12:58 PM:


Fair enough. I don't really know how you'd weigh the damage done by police misconduct (ranging from harassment to beatings to shootings) against the damage done by running some justice systems for a profit. Both seem pretty bad.

My intuition is that the beatings and harassment do more damage overall than the shootings (because the shootings are fairly rare--a thousand or so a year in a country of 300 million--whereas lesser police abuse is probably a lot more common). But I have no idea how you'd really measure that.

And my intuition is also that all other abusive policing probably does less damage than policing-for-a-profit, but again I don't have any way to measure that. Mainly, I suspect this because policing for a profit pays off, and so tends to expand in scope, and because the people caught up in the gears of that system can end up in a hopeless spiral of fines piled on fines, occasional jail stays, and impossible-to-repay debts.

But I really don't know for sure, and like I said, I'm not even sure how you'd go about trying to answer the question.

However, there's also some overlap. If you assume that every police stop has some chance of going horribly wrong (leading to someone getting shot or bashed), then getting rid of all the police stops that were driven by a need for revenue (rather than a need to keep the streets safe) seems like a clear win.

#299 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 02:06 PM:

cajunfj40 @289: There are a lot of systems that white people think are racially neutral that end up being exclusionary.

One less-emotionally-loaded example I use to really show well-meaning white folks (who reinforce white supremacy with their actions) is symphony orchestras.

Until, say, the late 90s, almost all US symphony orchestras looked like this: 75%+ male, 60%+ white, 30%+ east Asian. Their audition process, you see, was perfectly egalitarian: only "the very best musicians" out of everyone who auditioned, were hired. -- Let's leave aside any narrowing or exclusionary inputs to the "who actually auditions" input stream for the moment, because there's another thing that's really interesting about this.

One or two symphonies decided (after pressure from feminists, mostly) to implement blind auditions. Now each applicant had a number, and performed behind a scrim. The judges knew nothing except what they heard, and marked down a score.

Suddenly, the racial and gender balance of the musicians hired jumped to almost exactly that in the population at large. How amazing! I guess a bunch of women, Black folks, Latinos, etc, suddenly became MUCH BETTER MUSICIANS than they had been, right?

Except no. Because the judges -- who would assure you they were completely un-racist and open to hiring people of all races -- were judging the musicians rather strongly based upon their looks and category, and only secondarily on musical skill. They did so without ever realizing it.

Many processes and pieces of infrastructure in our world are so white-dominated and racially exclusionary that they look completely unbiased and merit-based -- to white people.

--Many basic codes of conduct and rules of behavior at cemeteries, public pools, public parks, and so on, forbid practices which are culturally common and unremarkable in some non-white-mainstream cultural groupings. This tells those people "Go somewhere else, you're a weirdo and we'll chase you off for acting normally." To white people, they're matter-of-fact, obvious: why would anyone but an asshole ever do anything different?

-- Many sports and leisure activities that are overwhelmingly dominated by white people tend to have all-white faces in their equipment advertising, and are by their visible all-white userbase automatically a place a person of color knows is likely to cause some behavior between the extremes of "clueless hurtful white-guy stuff" and "active violence" against them, so they stay away. There are Latino and Black groups working to bring people of color into the cycling world, for example, which has long been dominated by MAMILs: Middle Aged Men In Lycra. White ones, as it happens.

If your outcomes are strongly racially biased (a workforce, profession, hobby group, governing institution that is overwhelmingly white), then there's something in your "inclusive" onboarding process that isn't actually race-neutral -- or else, something post-hiring that is shoving people of color out.

#300 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 02:24 PM:

albatross @298: It seems like policing-for-a-profit might also contribute to ongoing police misconduct of other types, in two ways:

1) Increase the sense of us-vs-them within police departments towards the communities they are policing, by requiring them to meet certain quotas and thereby potentially increasing the sheer quantity of adversarial interactions. This would increase distrust of the police in a low-grade way, and also increase police distrust and disdain for those they are meant to be protecting, because they're explicitly looking for minor infractions that are perhaps made to seem worse by the profitable fines they carry. And if ye look, ye shall find.

2) Increase the perceived pool of "legitimate" targets of police harassment and overreaction by greatly increasing the number of people with outstanding warrants. I'm here assuming that the group of people perceived as "legitimate" targets is a superset of the pool of people with outstanding warrants, because surely there are people who've done something wrong who haven't been caught yet and this is taken as justifying suspicion of those who have not got outstanding warrants, but resemble those who do by virtue of being their neighbors, friends, and family.

I expect the problems get worse in proportion to the percentage of the population with unpaid fines and outstanding warrants, but note that this is all somewhat irresponsible armchair sociology and speculation, which I hope might be a (fresh or redundant) pointer to potentially fruitful lines of inquiry. (It would be really excellent if eliminating policing-for-profit also dramatically reduced police brutality and viciousness! I don't know if it's plausible, but it would be really excellent.)

Elliott Mason @299: I heard that women also started auditioning barefoot, because the judges could hear their high heels through the screen, and that this also resulted in a (smaller?) increase in women in orchestras.

#301 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 02:30 PM:

Elliott, #299: Re cycling, here's a good example of the sort of thing you're talking about. A lot of people of color use bicycles as routine transportation, or in conjunction with public transportation (where the buses have bike racks). White people who ride bicycles overwhelmingly do it for recreational/exercise purposes only, not as a way of getting around. And yet, even in cities such as Houston which are notably bike-friendly (as opposed to the majority of American cities which range from "don't give a shit" to "actively bike-hostile"), the dedicated bicycle paths are heavily optimized for the recreational cyclist. The assumption is that you're going to get on the path at one end, ride to the other, and then come back again; little things that would make things easier for transportation-bikers, like on-and-off connectors to major streets along the way, are haphazard at best. (How do I know this? Because you can see the dirt trails where people have made a practice of getting onto/off of the bike trail near a major intersection.) If you're aware that the proportion of transportation-bikers is heavily non-white, the exclusionary properties of this kind of thing are painfully obvious. But if you're the average white recreational cyclist, they look completely neutral -- you're not saying that black/Latino cyclists can't use the paths, after all.

#302 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2016, 02:39 PM:

One thing I haven't seen discussed is injuries from beatings by the police. I'd be really surprised if this doesn't happen. Possibly there's reporting on the subject and I haven't seen it.

#303 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2016, 05:24 PM:

Lee @301 I don't know where you live, but here in Minneapolis, there are a lot of people who ride bikes for transportation, many of them year round. Bike friendly policies abound, as far as I know. I know people who bike to work on a regular basis, or bike for transportation. All the buses have bike racks. Every time I get on the light rail, I see bikes. There is the "greenway", former railroad tracks that is now a bike right of way. It cuts through the width of the city, and it goes through some neighborhoods that are heavily PoC. I see lots of PoC on bikes. I don't think Minneapolis is exclusionary in the way you describe. I'd be interested in hearing about places like Portland that are also known for being bike friendly.

#304 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2016, 10:36 PM:

Well: Boulder. When Moshe Yudkowsky visited a few years ago, he was joked about the bike racks on the noses of the planes at DIA. I had occassion to peddle through campus yesterday, and bike and foot traffic was thick. Not standstill, but you definitely had to pay attention. If one is willing to detour a mile or so, it is possible to get across town on both axes entirely off-road.

And we even prosecute drivers who hit bikes.

#305 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2016, 01:01 AM:

Magenta Griffith@303: The "cities such as Houston" might perhaps have been a clue.

#306 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2016, 11:59 AM:

Jacque, you know Moshe Yudkowsky? Fandom is a small world...

#307 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2016, 03:08 AM:

Cassy B.: Yeah, I think I can claim to know him.

#308 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2016, 03:10 AM:

David Goldfarb @305: The "cities such as Houston" might perhaps have been a clue.

A clue to...? (Pardon me; I'm being dense today.)

#309 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2016, 10:18 AM:

Jacque @308: ZOMG **YOU** painted that?!?

*insert fangirling here at length*

That is the coolest fucking business card in the history of ever and the painting is completely badass. I've had a copy for well over a decade.

#310 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2016, 11:20 AM:

Jacque, that's your art???? Dang, I've admired that business card of his for years!

#311 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2016, 02:48 PM:

Jacque: A clue to where Lee lives.

#313 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2016, 08:28 PM:

Idumea Arbacoochee: Just to clarify: @312: references @311, 308, 305 & prev? Not @306–310, I hope?

#314 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2016, 05:25 PM:

Jacque @313:

Yes, you have it right. (Busy days in gnomeland; apologies for being unclear.)

#315 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2016, 05:39 PM:

Idumea: Thank you. Whew!

Elliott Mason & Cassy B.: ::turns pink:: Thank you! Yeah, I really liked Moshe's concept. SDRSN,* I'm going to do a nifty-cool fold-out card like that for myself.

I'm afraid I disappointed him terribly, though, wrt the interior. I finally worked out that I'm Just Not Interested in typography for its own sake. "Whaddya think of this? How 'bout this??" "Yeah, looks good. Go for it!" "But but but—" :-)

Moshe is such a dear, strange boy. I can never see a pair of mirror rainbow sunglasses without thinking of him.

* Some Day Real Soon Now

#316 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2016, 03:17 PM:

Jacque @307: That is gorgeous. Wow. I'm seriously impressed.

#317 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2016, 03:50 PM:

::curtsies:: Thank you!

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